Complexity Measures and Concept Learning

Complexity Measures and Concept Learning

Andreas D. Pape Kenneth J. Kurtz Hiroki Sayama Corresponding Author. Department of Economics, Binghamton University, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, NY 13905. apape@binghamton.edu. 1-607-777-2660. Department of Psychology, Binghamton University, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, NY 13905. kkurtz@binghamton.edu Departments of Bioengineering and Systems Science and Industrial Engineering, Binghamton University, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, NY 13905. sayama@binghamton.edu Collective Dynamics of Complex Systems Research Group, Binghamton University, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, NY 13905
Abstract

The nature of concept learning is a core question in cognitive science. Theories must account for the relative difficulty of acquiring different concepts by supervised learners. For a canonical set of six category types, two distinct orderings of classification difficulty have been found. One ordering, which we call paradigm-specific, occurs when adult human learners classify objects with easily distinguishable characteristics such as size, shape, and shading. The general order occurs in all other known cases: when adult humans classify objects with characteristics that are not readily distinguished (e.g., brightness, saturation, hue); for children and monkeys; and when categorization difficulty is extrapolated from errors in identification learning. The paradigm-specific order was found to be predictable mathematically by measuring the logical complexity of tasks, i.e., how concisely the solution can be represented by logical rules.

However, logical complexity explains only the paradigm-specific order but not the general order. Here we propose a new difficulty measurement, information complexity, that calculates the amount of uncertainty remaining when a subset of the dimensions are specified. This measurement is based on Shannon entropy. We show that, when the metric extracts minimal uncertainties, this new measurement predicts the paradigm-specific order for the canonical six category types, and when the metric extracts average uncertainties, this new measurement predicts the general order. Moreover, for learning category types beyond the canonical six, we find that the minimal-uncertainty formulation correctly predicts the paradigm-specific order as well or better than existing metrics (Boolean complexity and GIST) in most cases.

keywords:
Concepts, Induction, Complexity, Learning

1 Introduction

In a canonical classification learning experiment, human learners are tested on the six possible categorizations that assign eight examples (all possibilities of three binary-valued dimensions) to two equal-sized classes (Shepard, Hovland, & Jenkins, 1961). These classification problems, commonly referred to as the SHJ types, have been instrumental in the development and evaluation of theories and models of category learning. Learning is easiest for Type I in which the classes can be distinguished using a simple rule on a single dimension–e.g. all large items are category A and all small items are category B. Learning is most difficult for Type in which the two classes cannot be distinguished according to any set of rules or statistical regularities. The remaining types () are intermediate in difficulty. (Table 2 provides a complete description of the six mappings.)

These experiments yield a well-known ordering with a particular pattern across the intermediate types: Type (a logical XOR rule on two dimensions) is learned faster than Types , which are learned at the same speed. An update to this traditional SHJ ordering based on a review of the existing literature and a series of new experiments reveals that Type does not differ from Types except under particular instructional conditions that encourage rule formation or attention to particular dimensions (Kurtz, Levering, Romero, Stanton, & Morris, 2012).

While this ordering (with or without the recent update) is generally what researchers associate with the SHJ types, there also exists a set of results across a wide variety of learning circumstances in which an entirely different ordering occurs. Specifically, the intermediate types separate into an ordering as follows: . Of particular note is the difficulty in learning Type (along with the non-equivalence of Types ). There are four separate cases that yield results consistent with this ordering: first, stimulus generalization theory, which generates a prediction of the ordering of the classification problems based on the frequency of mistakes (pairwise confusions) in learning unique labels (i.e., identification learning) for each item (Shepard et al., 1961); second, stimuli comprised of integral dimensions (Garner, 1974) that are difficult for the learner to perceptually analyze and distinguish, such as brightness, hue, and saturation (Nosofsky & Palmeri, 1996); third, learning by monkeys (Smith, Minda, & Washburn, 2004); fourth, learning by children (Minda, Desroches, & Church, 2008).

Since this less well-known ordering occurs across such far-reaching circumstances, we will refer to it as the general order; and since the well-known SHJ ordering is only found in one specific learning setting (adult humans learning to classify separable stimuli), we will refer to it as the paradigm-specific order. We acknowledge that for some readers, it may seem counterintuitive to dissociate the ordering they are most familiar with from the ordering we designate as general, but in fact it makes good sense to do so.

To provide further detail about the evidence for the general ordering, it has been shown that the results for learning the SHJ types with integral-dimension stimuli fully match the general order, i.e. (Nosofsky & Palmeri, 1996). Since this also corresponds to stimuli generalization theory, these results are interpreted as reinforcing Shepard et al.’s (1961) view that stimuli generalization theory predicts ease of learning unless a process of attention or abstraction can be applied by the learner.

The settings with non-adult or non-human learners match an important characteristic of the general order, that is found to be more difficult than Types , while there is only some support for the ordering. In the cross-species research (Smith et al., 2004), four rhesus monkeys were tested on a modified version of the SHJ six types. The core finding is that Type was more difficult for the monkeys to learn than Types (which the authors elect to average across in their reporting). In the developmental work (Minda et al., 2008), the researchers modified the SHJ task to be age-appropriate for children of ages 3, 5, and 8. Only Types were tested: Type was the most difficult to learn (consistent with the general rather than the paradigm-specific order). No significant difference between Types and was observed, however it appears that the researchers did not evaluate the interaction between age of children and their performance on Types and . From the mean accuracy data, it can be seen that the children show increasingly good performance on Type with age and increasingly poor performance with age on Type . While we do not have access to statistical support, the available evidence is consistent with the younger children learning Type IV more easily than Type (as in the general ordering).

There are two general classes of explanation in the psychological literature on category learning that have been successfully applied to the SHJ types. Mechanistic models, which are implemented in computational simulations of trial-by-trial learning, have been used to explain the paradigm-specific order (i.e. Kurtz, 2007; Love, Medin, & Gureckis, 2004) and some have been shown to account for both the paradigm-specific and general orders (Kruschke, 1992; Nosofsky & Palmeri, 1996; Pape & Kurtz, 2013). The other approach is based on the use of formal metrics to measure mathematical (logical) complexity (Feldman, 2000, 2006; Goodman, Tenenbaum, Feldman, & Griffiths, 2008; Goodwin and Johnson-Laird, 2011; Lafond, Lacouture, & Mineau, 2007; Vigo, 2006, 2009, 2013). These models heretofore account only for the paradigm-specific order.

We put forth a mathematical complexity metric, information complexity, which can account for, on one hand, the paradigm-specific order and, on the other hand, the general order, with a single change in the formula from a min to a mean operator. Our metric calculates the Shannon entropy (Shannon, 1948) in a classification problem when a subset of the dimensions are specified. The min operator identifies the subsets of dimensions which provide the most information (and thus leave the minimal uncertainty): this applies to the paradigm-specific order, in which sophisticated learners can observe separable dimensions and may employ abstraction or attention with regard to these dimensions. On the other hand, the mean operator averages over subsets of dimensions, and, correspondingly, it applies to the general order, in which learners are less sophisticated or unable to separate dimensions. The logic of this correspondence is described in greater detail in Section 2 (Theory). Among complexity accounts of learning behavior, this new measurement has the advantage of being an analytical function exclusively of observable parameters, i.e. it does not require a heuristic to calculate (Feldman, 2000) nor does it require the fitting parameters to data (Vigo, 2013).

In Section 2, we describe the background of information theory and define the metric. In Section 3, we evaluate the metric’s prediction of learning behavior. In Section 3.1, we demonstrate the metric’s ability to predict the paradigm-specific and general orders of the SHJ tasks, as well as show it successfully predicts quantitative error rates. In Section 3.2, we demonstrate the metric’s ability to predict the paradigm-specific ordering on classification learning tasks beyond SHJ as well or better than the existing metrics (Boolean complexity and GIST) in all cases but one. We also show it successfully predicts the quantitative error rates. The general order setting has not been tested beyond SHJ: this section also, therefore, provides predictions for those future experiments.

2 Theory

In this section, we first provide a comparison of the existing metrics in the literature, which rely on logical complexity, and Shannon entropy, which provides the foundation of our metric. Then, we formally introduce our metric and explain its components.

2.1 Logical Complexity versus Information Complexity

Logical complexity characterizes the length of the shortest description of a system. In an SHJ-style classification, the ‘system’ in question is a particular categorization. Feldman’s Boolean complexity (Feldman, 2000) is a type of logical complexity metric, but there are others, such as Kolmogorov (algorithmic) complexity, which is the length of the shortest program to produce a certain output (Li & Vitâanyi, 2008). These are all related in the sense that they are attempting to construct a minimal set of logical rules that describe a system or process or categorization. The measurement of Boolean complexity begins with the ‘disjunctive normal form’ of a classification, which is the most verbose way to describe the classification as a set of values connected by AND and OR, i.e. “(small AND dark AND circle) OR (large AND dark AND circle).” Then heuristics are applied to eliminate redundant elements, and the metric is defined as the final, minimal number of remaining logical literals.

Vigo’s GIST (Vigo, 2013) is not strictly a logical-complexity metric, but also incorporates aspects models based on selective attention, such as GCM, ALCOVE, and SUSTAIN (Nosofsky, 1986; Kruschke, 1992; Love et al., 2004). GIST stands for “Generalized Invariance Structure Theory.” The term “invariance” refers to distilled elements of a category when a dimension is suppressed or ignored. Objects that appear multiple times under these conditions are considered ‘invariant.’111An earlier version of this model, CIT (Vigo, 2009), involves perturbing the dimensional value and considering objects that remain in the category, which is a more natural notion of ‘invariance.’ The essence of the GIST metric is that the more invariants, the easier a category is to learn; the fewer invariants, the harder. Invariants are somewhat similar to the notion of redundant elements in Boolean complexity.

Information complexity characterizes the amount of information or uncertainty in a system. The most commonly used metric, Shannon information entropy (Shannon, 1948), measures how much information an observer can gain from one observation of a system: the higher the Shannon entropy, the more unpredictable. To explain Shannon entropy, we begin with the formal definition and then consider an example of a fair and unfair coin.

First, the definition of Shannon entropy. Consider a single random variable , which can take on finitely many values , where value occurs with probability . Then the Shannon entropy of is given by:

In the information theory literature, the function is called the “self-information” of an event which occurs with probability . can be interpreted as the informativeness of observing such an event, i.e. how much surprise the event engenders. Taking that interpretation as given, is then the probabilistically-weighted sum of the informativeness of all possible outcomes of . This means is the expected value of informativeness of .

can be interpreted as uncertainty. Why? is the ex-post ‘surprise’ engendered by a single observation of an event, which means that is the expected ex-ante ‘surprise.’ That does it mean to expect surprise? Consider the opposite: suppose one expects to not be surprised by an outcome. When one expects not to be surprised, one can be said to be fairly certain. Therefore, if one expects to be surprised, one can be said to be uncertain. Therefore, can be interpreted as ‘uncertainty.’

To further clarify the interpretation of as the informativeness of an event which occurs with probability , note that over the range of valid probabilities, goes to as approaches , it is at , and it is at . This reflects the idea that an event that occurs with vanishingly small probability is very surprising when it occurs, so is very informative. On the other hand, an event that occurs with certainty (i.e. with probability ), is completely uninformative: what happens is what one is sure would happen.

Our metric is founded on this way of measuring uncertainty. Uncertainty is maximized when all events are equally probable. Intuitively, this rests on symmetry, and the fact that making one event less likely increases the informativeness of that event, but also necessarily makes the other event more likely, decreasing the informativeness of that other event. In the extreme, a certain event has zero informativeness, because the informativeness of the certain event () is multiplied by the total available probability of one, and the other event is ignored. Mathematically, this arises from maximizing uncertainty with straightforward calculus. For example, in the case of two events, is maximized at .

Consider the uncertainty of a fair, then unfair coin. Suppose is the flip of a fair coin, where the outcomes are “heads” and “tails” and . The informativeness of each “heads” or “tails” is , as mentioned above. Therefore, the information entropy is . This can be interpreted as: a flip of a fair coin reveals, on average, exactly one binary ‘bit’ of information. On the other hand, an unfair coin reveals, on average, less than one bit of information: Suppose is an unfair coin, where “heads” and “tails” occur with probabilities and respectively. Then

This means that it yields, on average, less than one bit of information. In fact, the more unfair the coin, the less the average flip reveals: the intense surprise of the unlikely event is smothered by its vanishingly small probability. This culminates at the extreme of a maximally unfair coin, , whose ‘flips’ are certain and therefore are Shannon entropy-free:

The fact that establishes that the first term is zero, so .


2.2 The Information Complexity Metric

Our complexity metric is based on Shannon information entropy; as mentioned above, it is founded on an aggregation of informativeness. The metric encodes: If the object’s characteristics for some subset of the dimensions are specified, how much uncertainty is left in the categorization? In this way, we construct an aggregate measure of the informativeness of each dimension and each set of dimensions.

Formally, let a classification task be formulated as a binary function , where and are two categories and is a multidimensional vector with dimensions, so . Let be a finite subset of the real line and is a list of possible values that the entries of can take on, so . In SHJ, , , and there are six functions (when symmetric cases are aggregated), one associated with each Problem Type .

The information complexity metric rests on calculating the average remaining uncertainties in classification after entriess of are specified to certain values. It is convenient to define these quantities by grouping them by the number of dimensions which are specified. We begin constructing the metric by considering different ways to partition the stimuli into subsets when dimensions are specified.222A partition of a set is a set of non-overlapping subsets of that together contain every element of . I.e. is a partition of if: for all , for all , and . We define as the set of all such -dimension partitions. Formally, we define as:

In SHJ, , and, if we let denote an unspecified ‘digit’ of , then, for example,

Note that, as described earlier, each element of is a partition of ; for example, the second element represents the set

As this example demonstrates, this partitions the set of all stimuli into two subsets: one in which the second element is and one in which the second element is .

Now we wish to consider the average remaining uncertainty for each element of . We do so by defining a vector , which has a non-negative real number for each element of . Each element of is a partition of the stimulus space, so the entry in associated with a particular partition represents the average uncertainty associated with that partition, when one considers ‘learning’ which subset in that partition one falls in. So also has three elements, one for each element of , and the first entry of is the remaining uncertainty after learning, in this case, the first digit of the stimulus. The values of the entries of vary with the problem type determined by function : i.e. Type and Type classification problems have different amounts of uncertainties for the same subsets of specified dimensions. Formally,

where is defined as

with . is the function that calculates the entropy (remaining uncertainty) in classification within , i.e., when entries of in the focal dimensions are set to a particular set of values; for example, when the second dimension in SHJ is set to 1. Then each element of is a simple average of over , e.g., the average uncertainty when the second dimension in SHJ is set to 0 or 1.

Then our metric is defined as:

(1)

where the function is an aggregation function that produces the amount of relevant overall uncertainty from . There are two forms of that are of interest here, min and mean, which we discuss further in Section 3. As Equation 1 suggests, we denote the two metrics as and .

Given this definition, represents the average remaining uncertainty when no dimensions are determined, so has one element, which is a set that contains the whole set . if both categories, A and B, are equally present in the stimulus space. Clearly, must equal or exceed for all . On the other extreme, gives the smallest value because the least unpredictability remains when all dimensions are determined. In other words, is a collection of singleton sets, where each set contains precisely one element of the whole set . In the SHJ series of experiments, observing all dimensions uniquely defines the category, so . (In principle, one could consider categorization learning in which the categories have some unresolvable uncertainty, in which case .)

For completeness, the statement of the information complexity metric in a single expression is:

We aggregate this metric over all possible values of , i.e. all possible numbers of specified dimensions. This aggregate information complexity metric is:

We consider to be a measure of the overall information complexity of a classification task.

A B
Table 1: SHJ Type II

2.3 Comparison to Boolean Complexity and GIST

To better understand the four metrics considered here—, , Boolean complexity, and GIST—we compare how they evaluate SHJ Type II. SHJ Type II is depicted in Table 1, where the stimuli are depicted as three-dimensional binary vectors. As can be seen in this table, the ‘rule’ which defines Type II is, if the first two dimensions match, then it is in category A; if they do not, then it is in category B. This implies that the third dimension has no effect on the categorization.

First, let us consider the Boolean complexity representation of this categorization. Boolean complexity begins with a maximally verbose logical description of the elements of A, reduces the statement, and measures its length. The notation used by Feldman (and Boole) is the following: we let , , and represent the claims “The first digit is 1,” “the second digit is 1,” and “the third digit is 1,” respectively. Then represents the claim “ AND ,” represents the claim “ OR ,” and represents the claim “not .” Given this notation, the most verbose description of the elements of A in SHJ Type II is: . The most compact representation is , which, translated back into verbal claims, is “the first and second digits are both one or the first and second digits are both zero,” which the reader can confirm corresponds to the fundamental rule describing Type II above. Feldman’s Boolean complexity in this case involves simply counting the ‘literals’ (i.e. claims , , or ) that appear in the most compact representation. In the most compact representation, appears twice and appears twice for a total of four literals, so the Boolean complexity of SHJ Type II is

Second, let us consider how GIST evaluates this categorization. GIST considers ‘invariants’ based on ignoring or ‘binding’ dimensions one by one. First, GIST constructs what Vigo calls a “structural manifold,” in which it calculates the proportion of stimuli in are invariants when a particular dimension is ‘bound.’ Consider binding the third dimension. When the third dimension is bound (ignored) every stimulus in category is an invariant, so the proportion associated with the third dimension is . By contrast, binding either of the first two dimensions produces no invariants, to the proportion associated with those dimensions are zero. Therefore the structural manifold for SHJ Type II is . (In general, these proportions can lie between zero and one.) The manifold indicates that the first two dimensions are the most useful to observe to categorize the object (i.e. ‘contain the most information,’) while the third is the least useful. GIST transforms the structural manifold into a single metric by taking the square root of the sum of squared entries, and calling the resulting value , which can be considered the value of the GIST metric.333This is not precisely correct. In fact, is then transformed so that smaller corresponds to larger values and a functional form is applied which affects the magnitude. However, since the reversed order of is preserved, the value of captures the essence of GIST. In this case, .

Third and finally, let us consider our information complexity metrics and . As described above, they are identical but for aggregation at the dimension level; accordingly, we are able to consider both at the same time. The metric is constructed at each dimension level from zero to three (in this case), where denotes the number of dimensions which are fixed. Consider . If one dimension is known to be (say) zero, what is the probability that a particular stimulus is in (say) category ? The corresponding probabilities are ; that is, there are as many category stimuli with a zero as the first entry as category stimuli, and so on. This corresponds to maximal uncertainty in each case. Therefore the vector of uncertainties at dimension level is . This vector of uncertainties is called in the notation above.444Uncertainty is equal to the associated with category plus the associated with category ; so . Now consider . If two dimensions are known, what is the uncertainty about the stimulus category ? First, consider the first two dimensions. When the first two dimensions are known, then the category is known with certainty. That implies that the uncertainty associated with the first two dimensions is zero. Now consider the case when the first and third dimension are known. In this case, the category is completely unknown (there as many stimuli with first and third dimensions equalling, for example, , in the category as ) and so uncertainty is maximized at . This same argument applies when the second and third dimensions are known (uncertainty is maximized). Therefore, the vector of uncertainties associated with is . Having considered the non-trivial cases of and , let us now consider the trivial cases. Consider . Uncertainty is minimized when all dimensions are observed, so the associated uncertainty ‘vector’ is . (Why does this vector have one entry? Because there is only one way to divide the stimuli into subsets where all dimensions are observed: one subset for each stimulus.) Finally, consider . Clearly, uncertainty is maximized when no dimensions are observed, so the uncertainty ‘vector’ . (This vector has one entry because there is only one way to divide the stimuli into subsets there no dimensions are observed: all stimuli are in one subset.)

Now we apply the aggregation method, which reveals the difference between the version of the metric which reveals the paradigm-specific order and the one which yields the general order. The mean aggregator assumes that at each dimension level , the ‘best’ way to divide up the stimuli cannot be chosen. So the mean aggregator yields for , which is , and for , which is ; and obviously also selects for and for . Therefore . By contrast, the min aggregator assumes that the ‘best’ way to divide up the stimuli at each dimension level can be chosen. So the aggregator yields for (no difference between and ) and for , compared to for the aggregator. This obviously corresponds to the idea that the ‘best’ way to break up the stimuli at the level is to divide up the stimulus space by considering the first two dimensions instead of any other pairing, and there is where the value of the min aggregator emerges. So .555These values also appear in Table 3 (for ) and Table 4 (for ).

In an important way, GIST can be thought of as a method which is in two ways the ‘opposite’ of the information complexity metric. GIST looks for stimuli which become identical when dimensions are ignored. By contrast, in our information complexity metric, we fix the value of a dimension—which is the ‘opposite’ of ignoring that dimension—and look for remaining variation in objects, which is the ‘opposite’ of looking for invariants. This cannot be taken too far, however: though “twice opposite” could mean “the same,” GIST and information complexity are certainly not the same. The comparison of the uncertainty vectors and the structural manifolds above reveals that they are different. Part of the distinction is that while GIST searches for ‘invariants,’ it makes no distinction among the non-invariants about their degree of variance, while our metric does.

The information complexity metric has a min versus mean operator which naturally captures the paradigm-specific and general orders and settings. Might this approach—replacing min with mean—be usefully applied to Boolean complexity and GIST to yield a prediction for the general order? Boolean complexity is rooted in finding the minimally complicated definition of a category, and counting its complexity: applying the logic of replacing min with mean would suggest finding all ways to express a category and taking the mean complexity of those expressions. This is plausibly well-defined, in that the Boolean complexity starts with a maximally redundant list of the elements of a category and then reduces redundant elements: perhaps the complexity values at each step could be averaged. However, as this relies on heuristics to find the minimum value, the mean value of the path to the the minimum would presumably be even more sensitive to the details of the heuristics chosen. On the other hand, there is no natural analog to extend GIST to the general order/setting using this approach. GIST relies on the search for invariants while ignoring dimensions, and the notion of minimization doesn’t appear play any role, so there is no opportunity to even consider the replacement of min with mean to broaden its application.

3 Results

In this section, we consider the application of the metric to different classification learning tasks.

In Subsection 3.1, we apply the metric to the SHJ tasks. We consider both the paradigm-specific and general order contexts. This involves comparison to human data collected by Nosofsky et al. (1994) for the paradigm-specific context and Nosofsky & Palmeri (1996) for the general context. In Subsection 3.2, we apply the metric to a larger range of tasks beyond SHJ. This involves comparison to human data collected by Vigo (2013). These data cover more classification learning tasks, but only in the paradigm-specific context.666Therefore in this section we predict the outcome of future experiments: namely, these classification learning tasks performed in the general context. We compare the performance of the information complexity metric to Feldman’s Boolean complexity (Feldman, 2000) and Vigo’s GIST (Vigo, 2013).

In both of these task applications, the comparison to human data takes two forms: a qualitative comparison, in which the ordering of difficulty predicted by the relevant version of our metric is compared to the difficulty ordering observed in the human data; and a quantitative comparison, in which values of the relevant metric are used to predict human classification error rates. Both kinds of comparisons are important in this literature and date back to the original SHJ analysis (Shepard et al., 1961).

Dim. Category (A or B)
Values By SHJ Type ()
1 2 3
0 0 0 A A A A A A
0 0 1 A A A A A B
0 1 0 A B A A A B
0 1 1 A B B B B A
1 0 0 B B B A B B
1 0 1 B B A B B A
1 1 0 B A B B B A
1 1 1 B A B B A B
Paradigm-Specific Order:
General Order:
Table 2: The six mappings of three-digit binary strings to categories, Type I-VI.

3.1 SHJ Tasks: Paradigm-specific versus General Orders

Consider the application to the SHJ tasks. Table 2 depicts the definitions of SHJ tasks through as well as the paradigm-specific and general orders. In Subsection 2.2, we discussed two metrics, and , and mentioned that empirically predicts the paradigm-specific order and empirically predicts the general order.

SHJ Types Order
1 1 1 1 1 1
0 1 0.81 0.81 0.81 1
0 0 0.5 0.5 0.5 1
0 0 0 0 0 0
1 2 2.31 2.31 2.31 3
Table 3: The information complexity metric calculated for the SHJ classification learning problems. The last line contains the aggregate metric and is the sum of the previous lines. “” indicates that this relationship matches the paradigm-specific order.

SHJ Types Order
1 1 1 1 1 1
0.67 1.00 0.87 0.81 0.94 1.00
0.33 0.67 0.50 0.50 0.67 1.00
0 0 0 0 0 0
2.00 2.67 2.37 2.31 2.60 3.00
Table 4: The information complexity metric calculated on the SHJ classification learning problems. The last line contains the aggregate metric and is the sum of the previous lines. “” indicates that this relationship matches the general order.

Qualitative Comparison. Table 3 gives the outcome of metrics calculated for each SHJ task. Because the SHJ stimuli have three dimensions, the first four rows give the intermediate metric values through , followed by the aggregate information complexity metric . correctly predicts the paradigm-specific order. To understand the application to SHJ, consider and . finds and finds . Neither is the full paradigm-specific order: they must be summed into in order to recover the paradigm-specific order. Why the sum? Each rule extracts some amount of information, so the sum measures total information. Interestingly, all of the hallmarks of the SHJ paradigm-specific ordering are preserved in each case—except for Type . This potentially provides an account of individual differences that were observed in Kurtz et al. (2013), which showed a bimodal distribution in Type II learning.777Kurtz et al. (2013) found that participants given task instructions to look for rules during learning were likely to show a Type II advantage—unlike those given neutral instructions. We speculate that performance variation driven by task context or by individual differences may reflect processing of a limited or restricted nature. That is, some subjects learn Type very fast and some learn it quite slow, and aggregate results essentially reflect the weighting of the two types of learners in a sample. It may be the case that subjects who are, implicitly or explicitly, constructing rules that focus on fixing one dimension are the ones who learn Type slowly, but those who are constructing rules that focus on fixing two dimensions are the ones who learn it quickly. It also might be that agents who focus on one rule over the other weight that information more heavily: this suggests that a metric like for which vary across people could account for individual performance.

The mean information complexity metric also displays this characteristic, that no single level fully captures the general order. Consider and from Table 4. finds and and finds and . Neither metric alone fully captures human learning difficulty in the general order: the general order is only recovered by summing to

Figure 1: Quantitative Comparison: and vs. Human Data (Nosofsky et. al ’94 and Nosofsky & Palmeri ’96).

Quantitative Comparison. Now, we consider the quantitative fit of the information complexity metric to two established data sets: data gathered by Nosofsky et al. (1994) in the paradigm-specific setting and data gathered by Nosofsky & Palmeri (1996) in the general setting. We average the probability of error across the 25 blocks of data for each SHJ Type, and then calculate the coefficient of determination () between the relevant information complexity metric and the average probability of error. We find that the between the paradigm-specific human data and is and the between the general human data and is . The scatterplots with best-fit lines can be seen in Figure 1.

Table 5: Results of the Information Complexity Metric

3.2 Beyond SHJ

Now we consider the application of the information complexity metric beyond the SHJ category structures. In Feldman (2000, 2003), he identified the extended catalog of logical category structures beyond SHJ. In the notation he introduced, a set of tasks indicates objects of dimensions with objects in category . In this notation, the tasks we consider here are: , , , , , (SHJ), , , and . We find the quantitative fit and qualitative ordering fit to human data collected by Vigo (2013). We compare this fit against other metrics: Vigo’s GIST (Vigo, 2013) and Feldman’s Boolean complexity (Feldman, 2000). Vigo (2013) represents an important advance in the literature on complexity-based accounts of category learning: (1) the GIST account is an alternative to Boolean algebraic rules based on the core principle of deriving complexity from the degree of categorical invariance to perturbing transformations; (2) a wide set of human learning data on logical category structures are provided using an improved methodology over what was previously available in this domain;888Vigo’s description of his improved methodology over Feldman (2000), which we find compelling, describes four improvements: the same time for subjects to learn stimuli across tasks, regardless of dimensionality; sampling from all possible structures consistent with a particular value, instead of a subset; stimuli that are less abstract (images of flasks instead of ‘amoeba’); and assigning stimuli to subjects in a way that all experiments took roughly the same time, which would reduce errors due to subject fatigue. and (3) impressive fits are demonstrated between the two.

Table 5 shows the values of and for the tasks , , , , , (SHJ), , , and . The first column, , explicitly lists the elements of a representative set, when the category in question is viewed in “up parity;” i.e. when category has fewer elements than its complementary category . For example, , the SHJ tasks, lists the first set as , which is the familiar Type problem, in which the first dimension is sufficient to determine whether a particular stimulus is in category . (Note that, due to symmetry, there is no distinction between up and down parity in the SHJ tasks.) For the convenience of the reader, in Table 5 the tasks in each category structure are listed in the same order that they appear elsewhere (Feldman, 2000, 2003; Vigo, 2013).


GISTM BoolC
3[2] 1 .866 1
3[3] 1 1 1
3[4] (SHJ) .941 .812 .941
4[2] .8 1 .8
4[3] .986 .926 .986
4[4] .910 .860 .789
Table 6: Spearman : Information Complexity vs. GIST vs. Boolean Complexity. The value indicates correlation in orders between the metric and human data.

Qualitative Comparison. First, we consider the relative difficulty orderings implied by Feldman’s Boolean complexity (Feldman, 2003), Vigo’s GISTM (Vigo, 2013), and , and compare them to the orderings found in Vigo’s data.999The orderings implied by Vigo’s GISTM metric are extrapolated from the values of given in Vigo (2013) Table 1. Since GISTM is the ‘core model’ of Vigo’s approach, we believe that the incorporation of GISTM orderings are sufficient for this analysis. The data in question are from the 84 structures tested Vigo’s Experiment 1, what Vigo refers to as VEXPRO-84 in his text.101010We would like to thank Dr. Vigo for making these data available to us for this analysis. In this experiment, human adult learners (Ohio University undergraduates) are presented with stimuli with separable dimensions (images of flasks which varied in color, size, shape, and neck width). Since this experiment is in the paradigm-specific setting, is our preferred metric.

The rank correlations, also called Spearman , between the data and the available metrics are depicted in Table 6. They provide a quantitative metric to measure ordering accuracy. As can be seen, provides the equal or better rank correlation for each category structures except for , where GISTM provides the best rank correlation. The different category structures are discussed in detail below.

There is only one non-trivial case for two dimensions, which is . For these category structures, Boolean complexity, GISTM, and orderings match, but no human data are available.

There are three non-trivial cases for three dimensions, and differences across metrics and the human data are observed. For , Boolean complexity and orderings match each other and also match the order observed in the data: . However, the GISTM predicts that and are of equal difficulty, which is not observed in the data. As can be seen in Table 6, this causes GISTM to have a lower rank correlation with the human data. For , Boolean complexity, GISTM, , and the observed data orderings all match, and therefore perfect rank correlations are observed in Table 6.

are the SHJ tasks, discussed above, where the Boolean complexity ordering matches the ordering. GISTM ordering is similar to Boolean complexity and ordering, except that instead of . Note that the correlations in Table 6 are not because there are actually slight differences in the human data between , , and , and rank order is strict with regards to those slight differences. And GISTM’s prediction over those three items does run contrary to the small human variation. (Also, as noted above, neither GISTM nor Boolean complexity predict the general order, which we predict with . See Section 3.1).

There are also three non-trivial cases for four dimensions that we consider here. For , Boolean complexity and match each other:

In the data, we observe a reversal of the last two categories, namely that . GISTM predicts that and are of equal difficulty. This causes GISTM to have a higher rank correlation for , as observed in Table 6.

For , Boolean complexity and orderings match each other: there is a strict ordering over the first five tasks, and the fifth and sixth tasks are equally difficult. This very nearly matches the human data: in the human data three is a strict order over all items, including the last two (the sixth is more difficult than the fifth.) GISTM predicts many ties between items: GISTM predicts the second and third items are of equal difficulty, and predicts that the fourth, fifth, and sixth items are of equal difficulty. This leads GISTM to have a lower rank correlation than does .

Finally, we consider the most complicated set of category structures, . All orderings differ from each other, and all differ from the data. Boolean complexity and match fairly well, although finds two pairs to be identical that Boolean complexity differentiates. also finds that the item, , is moderately difficult, consistent with the human data, while Boolean complexity finds it fairly easy. The combination of these factors cause Boolean complexity to have a relatively low value. GISTM declares many cases to be identical which other metrics differentiate (two pairs of identical tasks, two triples of identical tasks, and one group of six identical tasks.) This also lowers GISTM’s match to human rankings relative to .


GISTM-SE GISTM BoolC
3[2] 0.994 0.999 0.950 0.910 0.995
3[3] 0.930 0.805 0.890 0.925 0.930
3[4] 0.877 0.519 1.000 0.920 0.965
4[2] 0.765 0.873 0.915 0.835 0.912
4[3] 0.891 0.866 0.945 0.945 0.978
4[4] 0.915 0.913 0.850 0.845 0.686
Table 7: Coefficient of Determination : Information Complexity vs. GIST vs. BoolC. Because this is a paradigm-specific setting, is the preferred information complexity metric (indicated in bold).

Quantitative Comparison. Table 7 depicts the coefficient of determination () of the information complexity metrics, Vigo’s metrics of GIST-SE and GIST-M, and Feldman’s Boolean complexity against Vigo’s human data. The GISTM-SE and GISTM values depicted here are from Vigo’s Figure 7, averaged over up and down parity (Vigo, 2013).111111We do this because our metric does not differentiate between up and down parity, because it is symmetric with regards to included and excluded categories. For the same reason, we collapse the behavioral data collected by Vigo over parity as well. It is worth noting that the up-down parity differences are external to the core ordering effects. The Boolean complexity values are calculated by the authors using the values for Boolean complexity given in Feldman (2003).

should provide a better fit to these data than . We find this to be the case in , (previously noted), , and , which is consistent with this hypothesis. Before discussing the two exceptions, and , below, we wish to note that this table also yields a prediction for future experiments: we predict that experiments , , and performed in the general setting—i.e. with integral dimensions, with children or monkeys as subjects, or when categorization difficulty is extrapolated from errors in identification learning—should be better explained by than . (Please see Table 5 for those values).

For and , we find provides a better fit than . The explanation we find most likely is illuminating. The explanation that ought to be a better fit than requires that subjects either implicitly or explicitly search for dimensions that explain the categorization best. In , category is only two objects from total; and in , category is only two objects from total. No matter how those two stimuli are distributed in the stimulus space, there is hardly any meaningful structure of subdimensions. This might be why our metric does not perform well in this case. That is, subjects are not searching for dimension-based definitions of , instead they may be memorizing the elements of . If this explanation is correct, it would also arise in any other case where is large while is small. Moreover, if this explanation is correct, we would expect this effect to be more pronounced for over (because the set is smaller relative to the total number of objects); and indeed, shows a more distinct advantage of over than does , where the advantage is slight.

Consider the fit of the information complexity metrics relative to GISTM and GISTM-SE, and then to Boolean complexity, also depicted in Table 7. is a better fit than the better of GISTM-SE and GISTM in the cases of , , and ; the reverse holds for , , and . From this perspective, the metrics are of comparable quantitative fit. However, it should be noted that the GIST metrics involve a free parameter () fitted to data separately for each set of category structures, which a degree of freedom the information complexity metric does not have. is a comparable fit to Boolean complexity in and ,121212Although is a better fit than Boolean complexity for . See discussion above on that point. a worse fit in , , and , and a substantially better fit in . So the quantitative fit comparison here is mixed.

4 Conclusions

The existing complexity metric literature concludes that “human conceptual difficulty reflects intrinsic mathematical complexity[.]”(Feldman, 2000) Our finding strengthens and deepens this fundamental result. We find that human conceptual difficulty reflects information complexity, where information complexity, based on Shannon entropy, is a concept based on uncertainty remaining as dimensions or sets of dimensions are specified. This approach has the advantage of being able to predict human learning whether in the paradigm-specific setting—in which adult learners are shown objects with separable dimensions—or in the general setting—in which dimensions are integral, in which learners are children or monkeys, or if errors are extrapolated from identification learning. Importantly, the second setting has never before been predicted by any mathematical complexity approach. Moreover, this approach explains these two domains in a way that reveals a possibly deep connection: when dimensions are separable, human learners are able to identify the dimension or set of dimensions that yield the minimum uncertainty, and exploit that; and when learners do not or cannot differentiate dimensions, then average uncertainty best predicts human learning. Finally, our metric makes predictions about the difficulty ordering for classification learning experiments beyond SHJ in the general setting. As experiments about general-setting learning beyond SHJ accumulate, we will learn whether and how effectively this measure of mathematical complexity can predict learning behavior.

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