RuCCS Colloquia

Dr. Joshua Tenenbaum (Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences - Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Bayesian models of human learning

October 7, 2003 at 1:00 p.m.

Psychology Room 101, Busch Campus

Dr. Joshua Tenenbaum

Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Bayesian models of human learning and reasoning

How can people learn the meaning of a new word from just a few
examples?  What makes a set of examples more or less representative of
a concept?  What makes two objects seem more or less similar?  Why are
some generalizations apparently based on all-or-none rules while
others appear to be based on gradients of similarity?  How do we infer
the existence of hidden causal properties or novel causal laws?  I
will describe an approach to explaining these aspects of everyday
induction in terms of rational statistical inference.  In our Bayesian
models, learning and reasoning are explained in terms of probability
computations over a hypothesis space of possible concepts, word
meanings, or generalizations.  The structure of the learner's
hypothesis spaces reflects their domain-specific prior knowledge,
while the nature of the probability computations depends on
domain-general statistical principles.  The hypotheses can be thought
of as either potential rules for abstraction or potential features for
similarity, with the shape of the learner's posterior probability
distribution determining whether generalization appears more
rule-based or similarity-based.  Bayesian models thus offer an
alternative to classical accounts of learning and reasoning that rest
on a single route to knowledge -- e.g., domain-general statistics or
domain-specific constraints -- or a single representational paradigm
-- e.g., abstract rules or exemplar similarity.  This talk will illustrate
the Bayesian approach to modeling learning and reasoning on a range of
behavioral case studies, and contrast its explanations with those of
more traditional process models.

The RuCCS Colloquia Series is organized by Dr. Manish Singh. The talks are held on Tuesdays in the Psychology Building, Room 101 on the Busch Campus from 1:00-2:30pm.

After each talk from 2:30-3:00pm a coffee service is provided in the Center for Cognitive Science Room A139. All are invited to come and meet the speaker.

Note: If you would like to receive email announcements about the colloquium series, please contact the Business Office to have your name added to our announce lists at

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