Humans flexibly solve new problems that differ qualitatively from those they were trained on. This ability to generalize is supported by learned concepts that capture structure common across different problems. Here we develop a naturalistic drawing task to study how humans rapidly acquire structured prior knowledge. The task requires drawing visual objects that share underlying structure, based on a set of composable geometric rules. We show that people spontaneously learn abstract drawing procedures that support generalization, and propose a model of how learners can discover these reusable drawing programs. Trained in the same setting as humans, and constrained to produce efficient motor actions, this model discovers new drawing routines that transfer to test objects and resemble learned features of human sequences. These results suggest that two principles guiding motor program induction in the model - abstraction (general programs that ignore object-specific details) and compositionality (recombining previously learned programs) - are key for explaining how humans learn structured internal representations that guide flexible reasoning and learning.
Speakers: Lucas Tian, Kevin Ellis, Marta Kryven, Josh Tenenbaum