“Identifying Human Inductive Biases”
People are remarkably good at acquiring complex knowledge from limited data, as is required in learning causal relationships, categories, or aspects of language. Successfully solving inductive problems of this kind requires having good "inductive biases" - constraints that guide inductive inference. Viewed abstractly, understanding human learning requires identifying these inductive biases and exploring their origins. I will argue that probabilistic models of cognition provide a framework that can facilitate this project, giving a transparent characterization of the inductive biases of ideal learners. I will outline how probabilistic models are traditionally used to solve this problem, and then present a new approach that uses Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithms as the basis for an experimental method that magnifies the effects of inductive biases. This approach provides some surprising insights into how information changes through cultural transmission (relevant to understanding processes like language evolution) and shows how ideas from computer science and statistics can lead to new empirical paradigms for cognitive science research.
Tom Griffiths is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at the University of California, Berkeley. His research explores mathematical models of higher level cognition, with the goal of understanding the formal principles that underlie our ability to solve the computational problems we face in everyday life. His current focus is on inductive problems, such as probabilistic reasoning, learning causal relationships, acquiring and using language, and inferring the structure of categories. He tries to analyze these aspects of human cognition by comparing human behavior to optimal or "rational" solutions to the underlying computational problems. For inductive problems, this usually means exploring how ideas from artificial intelligence, machine learning, and statistics (particularly Bayesian statistics) connect to human cognition.