Constraints and preferences in inductive learning: An experimental study of human and machine performance

Douglas L. Medin*, William D. Wattenmaker, Ryszard S. Michalski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The paper examines constraints and preferences employed by people in learning decision rules from preclassified examples. Results from four experiments with human subjects were analyzed and compared with artificial intelligence (AI) inductive learning programs. The results showed the people's rule inductions tended to emphasize category validity (probability of some property, given a category) more than cue validity (probability that an entity is a member of a category given that it has some property) to a greater extent than did the AI programs. Although the relative proportions of different rule types (e.g., conjunctive vs. disjunctive) changed across experiments, a single process model provided a good account of the data from each study. These observations are used to argue for describing constraints in terms of processes embodied in models rather than in terms of products or outputs. Thus AI induction programs become candidate psychological process models and results from inductive learning experiments can suggest new algorithms. More generally, the results show that human inductive generalizations tend toward greater specificity than would be expected if conceptual simplicity were the key constraint on inductions. This bias toward specificity may be due to the fact that this criterion both maximizes inferences that may be drawn from category membership and protects rule induction systems from developing over-generalizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-339
Number of pages41
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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