Categorical perception refers to the enhancement of perceptual sensitivity near category boundaries, generally along dimensions that are informative about category membership. However, it remains unclear exactly which dimensions are treated as informative and why. This article reports a series of experiments in which subjects were asked to learn statistically defined categories in a novel, unfamiliar 2D perceptual space of shapes. Perceptual discrimination was tested before and after category learning of various features in the space, each defined by its position and orientation relative to the maximally informative dimension. The results support a remarkably simple generalization: The magnitude of improvement in perceptual discrimination of each feature is proportional to the mutual information between the feature and the category variable. This finding suggests a rational basis for categorical perception in which the precision of perceptual discrimination is tuned to the statistical structure of the environment.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- categorical perception
- mutual information