A Modular Neural Network Model of Concept Acquisition

Cognitive Science 15 (4):461-508 (1991)
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Abstract

Previous neural network models of concept learning were mainly implemented with supervised learning schemes. However, studies of human conceptual memory have shown that concepts may be learned without a teacher who provides the category name to associate with exemplars. A modular neural network architecture that realizes concept acquisition through two functionally distinct operations, categorizing and naming, is proposed as an alternative. An unsupervised algorithm realizes the categorizing module by constructing representations of categories compatible with prototype theory. The naming module associates category names to the output of the categorizing module in a supervised mode. In such a modular architecture, the interface between the modules can be conceived of as an “information relay” that encodes, constrains, and propagates important information. Five experiments were conducted to analyze the relationships among internal conceptual codes and simple conceptual and lexical development. The first two experiments show a prototype effect and illustrate some basic characteristics of the system. The third experiment presents a bottom‐up model of the narrowing down of children's early lexical categories that honors mutual exclusivity. The fourth experiment introduces top‐down constraints on conceptual coding. The fifth experiment exhibits how hierarchical relationships between concepts are learned by the architecture, and also demonstrates how a spectrum of conceptual expertise may gradually emerge as a consequence of experiencing more with certain categories than with others.

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