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Recency effects are well documented in the adult and infant literature: recognition and recall memory are better for recently occurring events. We explore recency effects in infant categorization, which does not merely involve memory for individual items, but the formation of abstract category representations. We present a computational model of infant categorization that simulates category learning in 10-month-olds. The model predicts that recency effects outweigh previously reported order effects for the same stimuli. According to the model, infant behaviour at test should depend mainly on the identity of the most recent training item. We evaluate these predictions in a series of experiments with 10-month-old infants. Our results show that infant behaviour confirms the model's prediction. In particular, at test infants exhibited a preference for a category outlier over the category average only if the final training item had been close to the average, rather than distant from it. Our results are consistent with a view of categorization as a highly dynamic process where the end result of category learning is not the overall average of all stimuli encountered, but rather a fluid representation that moves depending on moment-to-moment novelty. We argue that this is a desirable property of a flexible cognitive system that adapts rapidly to different contexts.

Original publication




Journal article


Royal Society Open Science

Publication Date