Theories of how people learn relationships between continuous variables have tended to focus on two possibilities: one, that people are estimating explicit functions, or two that they are performing associative learning supported by similarity. We provide a rational analysis of function learning, drawing on work on regression in machine learning and statistics. Using the equivalence of Bayesian linear regression and Gaussian processes, which provide a probabilistic basis for similarity-based function learning, we show that learning explicit rules and using similarity can be seen as two views of one solution to this problem. We use this insight to define a rational model of human function learning that combines the strengths of both approaches and accounts for a wide variety of experimental results.
Keywords: Bayesian modeling; Function learning.