The Role of Hierarchy in Learning to Categorize Images


Converging evidence from anatomical studies (Maunsell, 1983) and functional analyses (Hubel & Wisesel, 1968) of the nervous system suggests that the feed-forward pathway of the mammalian perceptual system follows a largely hierarchic organization scheme. This may be because hierarchic structures are intrinsically more viable and thus more likely to evolve (Simon, 2002). But it may also be because objects in our environment have a hierarchic structure and the perceptual system has evolved to match it. We conducted a behavioral experiment to investigate the effect of the degree of hierarchy of the generative probabilistic structure in categorization. We generated one set of stimuli using a hierarchic underlying probability distribution, and another set according to a non-hierarchic one. Participants were instructed to categorize these images into one of the two possible categories a. Our results suggest that participants perform more accurately in the case of hierarchically structured stimuli.

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