Domain-Creating Constraints


should be sent to Robert L. Goldstone, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. E-mail:


The contributions to this special issue on cognitive development collectively propose ways in which learning involves developing constraints that shape subsequent learning. A learning system must be constrained to learn efficiently, but some of these constraints are themselves learnable. To know how something will behave, a learner must know what kind of thing it is. Although this has led previous researchers to argue for domain-specific constraints that are tied to different kinds/domains, an exciting possibility is that kinds/domains themselves can be learned. General cognitive constraints, when combined with rich inputs, can establish domains, rather than these domains necessarily preexisting prior to learning. Knowledge is structured and richly differentiated, but its “skeleton” must not always be preestablished. Instead, the skeleton may be adapted to fit patterns of co-occurrence, task requirements, and goals. Finally, we argue that for models of development to demonstrate genuine cognitive novelty, it will be helpful for them to move beyond highly preprocessed and symbolic encodings that limit flexibility. We consider two physical models that learn to make tone discriminations. They are mechanistic models that preserve rich spatial, perceptual, dynamic, and concrete information, allowing them to form surprising new classes of hypotheses and encodings.