Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Science




Minda, John P


This study consisted of two experiments intended to investigate the effects of varying factors on the use of verbal and implicit classification systems when learning novel categories in an interactive video game environment. Experiment 1 measured the effects of feature type (easy vs difficult to describe verbally), and Experiment 2 measured the effect of direct vs indirect feedback. Verbal and implicit classification were operationalized by measuring rule-based and family resemblance strategy use respectively. Experiment 1 found that participants presented with stimuli that were easy to describe verbally were more likely to use rule-based classification, while participants presented with stimuli that were difficult to describe verbally showed no preference for one form of classification. Experiment 2 found that participants favoured rule-based classification regardless of whether they received direct or indirect feedback. The results of this study open up a novel field of research within category learning, further exploring the effects of feature verbalizablity.

Summary for Lay Audience

This study was interested in how changes in the environment can affect how people learn how to sort things into groups. People can learn how to sort things with different strategies: you can come up with a rule based on one aspect of the item you’re trying to sort, or you can learn what each group looks like by paying attention to the overall appearance of the item. In order to do this, we had everyone who participated play a video game we designed where they had to sort cartoon monsters into one of two groups and/or feed them a certain amount of food. In Experiment 1, the game only involved sorting the monsters. In this experiment, some players saw monsters that had features that were easy to describe verbally, while others saw monsters with features that were difficult to describe verbally. We predicted that having features that were easy to describe would make it easier for players to come up with a rule to describe which monsters belonged to each group. The player’s performance matched this prediction. In Experiment 2, players would either sort the monster into a group and then guess how much to feed them, or would only guess how much to feed them. This was based on a previous study where players would do this on paper, but we transferred it to a video game environment. This study found that when players were not asked to sort the monsters into groups, they were less likely to come up with a simple rule for what groups the monsters belonged to; instead they based their decisions on the overall look of the monsters, not any one aspect of their appearance. This is because asking players to sort the monsters into groups made them realize there were groups to learn and they were actively trying to use a rule to learn them. The performance of our players did not match this prediction. We found that players were more likely to use a rule than base their decision on the overall look whether or not they were asked to sort them into groups first.