When do memory limitations lead to regularization? An experimental and computational investigation


The Less is More hypothesis suggests that one reason adults and children differ in their ability to learn language is that they also differ in other cognitive capacities. According to one version of this hypothesis, children’s relatively poor memory may make them more likely to regularize inconsistent input (Hudson Kam & Newport, 2005, 2009). This paper reports the result of an experimental and computational investigation of one aspect of this version of the hypothesis. A series of seven experiments in which adults were placed under a high cognitive load during a language-learning task reveal that in adults, increased load during learning (as opposed to retrieval) does not result in increased regularization. A computational model offers a possible explanation for these results. It demonstrates that, unless memory limitations distort the data in a particular way, regularization should occur only in the presence of both memory limitations and a prior bias for regularization. Taken together, these findings suggest that the difference in regularization between adults and children may not be solely attributable to differences in memory limitations during learning.

Journal of Memory and Language 67: 486-506
Andrew Perfors
Associate Professor

I seek to understand how people reason and think, both on their own and in groups.