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Attentional Learning and Flexible Induction: How Mundane Mechanisms Give Rise to Smart Behaviors


  • This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (BCS-0720135) and from the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education (R305H050125) to V.M.S. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the awarding organizations. We thank Heidi Kloos, John Opfer, and Chris Robinson for helpful comments.

concerning this article should be addressed to Vladimir M. Sloutsky, Center for Cognitive Science, Ohio State University, 208C Ohio Stadium East, 1961 Tuttle Park Place, Columbus, OH 43210. Electronic mail may be sent to


Young children often exhibit flexible behaviors relying on different kinds of information in different situations. This flexibility has been traditionally attributed to conceptual knowledge. Reported research demonstrates that flexibility can be acquired implicitly and it does not require conceptual knowledge. In Experiment 1, 4- to 5-year-olds successfully learned different context-predictor contingencies and subsequently flexibly relied on different predictors in different contexts. Experiments 2A and 2B indicated that flexible generalization stems from implicit attentional learning rather than from rule discovery, and Experiment 3 pointed to very limited strategic control over generalization behaviors in 4- to 5-year-olds. These findings indicate that mundane mechanisms grounded in associative and attentional learning may give rise to smart flexible behaviors.