Stages of category learning in monkeys (Macaca mulatta) and humans (Homo sapiens)

J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process. 2010 Jan;36(1):39-53. doi: 10.1037/a0016573.


Smith and Minda (1998) and Blair and Homa (2001) studied the time course of category learning in humans. They distinguished an early, abstraction-based stage of category learning from a later stage that incorporated a capacity for categorizing exceptional category members. The present authors asked whether similar processing stages characterize the category learning of nonhuman primates. Humans (Homo sapiens) and monkeys (Macaca mulatta) participated in category-learning tasks that extended Blair and Homa's paradigm comparatively. Early in learning, both species improved on typical items more than on exception items, indicating an initial mastery of the categories' general structure. Later in learning, both species selectively improved their exception-item performance, indicating exception-item resolution or exemplar memorization. An initial stage of abstraction-based category learning may characterize categorization across a substantial range of the order Primates. This default strategy may have an adaptive resonance with the family resemblance organization of many natural-kind categories.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology*
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Receptors, Pattern Recognition / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • Receptors, Pattern Recognition