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Different categorization processes

We constantly make decisions that require categorization: we carry out categorization every time we identify an object, diagnose a problem (“This is an interruption in electric current”), etc. How do we use concepts to categorize the world around us? The answer is determined by whether the concept is strictly defined or vague.

In the case of strictly defined concepts, for example, “bachelor” or “grandmother”, we try to determine how much a person matches the prototype (“She is somewhere under sixty, she is gray-haired, so she looks like a grandmother”). However, if we need to be precise, we must establish whether a given person has defining signs of a concept ("Is she the mother of a person who has children?"). This procedure is equivalent to using the rule: "If she is the mother of a person who has children, then she is a grandmother." A large number of studies have been devoted to the study of rule-based categorization for strictly defined concepts, indicating that the more features are included in a rule, the slower the categorization process, the more prone to error (Bourne, 1966). Perhaps this is due to the sequential processing of symptoms.

In the case of such vague concepts as “bird” or “chair”, we do not have enough signs to use rule-based categorization, so we rely on similarities. As already mentioned, in particular, we can determine the degree of similarity of the object with the prototype of the concept ("Is this object similar enough to the prototype that I have formed so that I can call it a chair?"). Obtaining evidence that people categorize objects in this way involves three steps (Smith, 1995):

1. First of all, the researcher determines the features inherent in the prototype of the concept and various examples of this concept. (The researcher may ask a group of subjects to describe the properties of the chair, which is their prototype, as well as various images of chairs.)

2. Then the researcher determines the degree of similarity between each of the examples (each image of the chair) and the prototype by establishing their common properties. The result of this comparison is to evaluate the similarity with the prototype for each example.

3. Finally, the researcher demonstrates that the assessment of similarity with the prototype is largely correlated with how accurately and quickly the subjects categorize this example. This suggests that the prototype plays an important role in categorization.

There is another way to establish the degree of similarity that we use when categorizing objects. This method can also be illustrated with an example of a chair. Since we store some specific examples or instances of chairs in long-term memory, we can determine whether an object resembles these instances stored in our memory; if so, we can say that we have a chair. Thus, we have two means of categorization based on similarities: similarities with the prototype and similarities with the instances stored in memory.



Acquisition of concepts



How is that many concepts that we possess acquired? Some concepts may be innate, for example, the concepts of “time” and “space”. Other concepts have to learn.

Mastering prototypes and cores. You can learn a concept in two ways: either we are specially taught something about a particular concept, or we learn this through our own experience. Which way assimilation will take place depends on what we learn. Special training serves as a means of teaching the kernels of concepts, while in personal experience we acquire prototypes. So, someone tells a child that a “thief” is someone who takes the property of another person and is not going to return it (the core of the concept), while from his own experience the child can learn that thieves are lazy, disheveled and dangerous (prototype )

Children should also learn that the core is a better indicator of belonging to a concept than a prototype, but they need time to find out. In one study, children between the ages of 5 and 10 were presented with descriptions of the elements and they had to decide whether they belong to specific, well-defined concepts. This study can be illustrated by the example of the concept of "thief." One of the descriptions of the “thief” spoke of a person who corresponded to the prototype, and not to the core of the concept:

“The foul-smelling wretched man with a gun in his pocket who came to your house and takes your TV because your parents no longer need him and they told him that he can take it.”

Another description of the "thief" corresponded to the core, not the prototype:

"A very friendly and cheerful woman who hugged you, but then disconnected the toilet in the toilet and took it away without permission and without the intention of returning it."

Young children were more likely to consider a prototype description as an example of this concept than a description corresponding to the core. Only by the age of 10 did children show a shift from prototype to core as the final criterion in concept decisions (Keil & Batterman, 1984).

<Fig. Parents can teach children to name and classify objects. Later, the child, seeing another object, can determine whether it is from the classification as the previously memorized instance.>

Learning through experience.
There are at least three ways to assimilate a concept through experience with examples of this concept. The simplest is called instance strategy; It can be illustrated on how the child learns the concept of “furniture”. When a child encounters a well-known example or instance, say a table, it stores its representation in memory. Later, when a child must decide whether or not a new element, say a table, is an example of “furniture”, he compares this new object with the “furniture” stored in memory, including the table. This strategy is widely used by children, and it works better with typical examples than with atypical ones. So, if the concept of a small child about “furniture” consisted only of the most typical examples (say, a table and a chair), he will be able to correctly classify other examples that look similar to familiar instances (table or sofa), but not those examples that differ from friends (lamp or bookshelf) (Mervis & Pani, 1981). Instance strategy continues to be part of our ways of acquiring concepts; there is much evidence that adults often use it to acquire new concepts (see, for example: Estes, 1994).

As we grow, we also begin to use another strategy - hypothesis testing. We study well-known examples of the concept, look for signs that are relatively common to them (for example, many components of “furniture” are located in residential premises), and hypothesize that these general signs characterize this concept. Then we analyze new objects, looking for these critical signs in them, and keep the hypothesis put forward if it leads to the correct categorization of a new object, or replace it if it leads us astray. This strategy, therefore, is based on abstractions - features characterizing a number of examples, and not just a separate example - and is aimed at searching for nuclear features, since they are common to most examples (Bruner, Goodenow & Austin, 1956).

Both the strategy of the instance and the strategy of testing the hypothesis are guided exclusively by the input signal, by well-known examples, and the preliminary knowledge of the knower has little weight here. In previous chapters, we called such strategies “bottom-up”, distinguishing them from strategies “top-down”, in which a person makes extensive use of prior knowledge. Applying the “top-down” strategy to assimilate the concept, a person uses his knowledge together with examples known to him to determine the main features of the concept. This is illustrated by the following study.

Two groups of adult subjects were presented with children's drawings, shown in Fig. 9.5. They were supposed to describe the characteristics that characterize each category. One group of subjects was told that the 1st category of drawings was made by creative children, and the 2nd category by creative ones; another group of subjects was told that the drawings from the 1st category were made by urban children, and the drawings from the 2nd category by rural children. Consequently, these two groups of subjects differed in the preliminary knowledge that they were to use: one knew about creative and non-creative children, and the other about urban and rural children. The effect of this difference was manifested in the descriptions of the categories given by these two groups of subjects. Subjects from a group that knew about creative and non-creative children gave more descriptions of two categories, which emphasized the number of details in the drawings, for example: “Creative children draw more details: eyelashes, teeth, curly hair, shadows and colors. Creative children often draw people consisting of sticks. ” On the contrary, a group that knew about urban and rural children gave more descriptions of two categories in which clothes stood out, for example: “Rural children paint people in overalls, straw or farm hats. City children draw people in ties and suits. ”



Fig. 9.5.

Mastering the concept on a top-down basis.

In an experiment on understanding concepts, one group of subjects was told that the 1st category of drawings was made by creative children, and the 2nd category by creative ones; another group of subjects was told that the drawings from the 1st category were made by urban children, and the drawings from the 2nd category by rural children. These two groups of subjects gave different descriptions of the categories. In addition, the same attribute (indicated by an arrow in the 4th figure of category 1) was sometimes interpreted differently in these two groups (according to: Wisniewski & Medin, 1991).



Thus, subjects with varying prior knowledge drew attention to the various features of the examples. In addition, in some cases, various preliminary knowledge predetermined the subjects' interpretation of the symptom itself. To illustrate, consider the part of the object indicated by the arrow in the 4th figure of category 1 (Fig. 9.5). Some subjects from a group that knew about creative and non-creative children interpreted this detail as a pocket and considered this evidence of a greater detail of the drawing. Some subjects from a group that knew about urban and rural children interpreted the same detail as a wallet and considered it evidence of urban affiliation. Prior knowledge, therefore, can affect any aspect of the acquisition of concepts (Wisniewski & Medin, 1991).
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