Concepts and categories

Ball, Linden orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5099-0124, Butler, Laurie T., Sherman, Susan M. and Clair-Thompson, Helen St (2023) Concepts and categories. In: Cognitive Psychology in a Changing World. Routledge, London, pp. 189-210. ISBN 9781003145851

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In this chapter, we consider how we define categories and the associated mental representation of a category, or concept. Furniture is an example of a category of items such as chairs, tables, sideboards and footstools. Each of the members of the category furniture has something in common with the other words, specifically, they are all objects that are useful or desirable to make living in a space possible. We explore why categories are useful to be able to communicate with other speakers of the same language and to help us process incoming information. However, despite their utility, not all categories are well-defined or agreed on. We look at how categories are learned, neuropsychological evidence supporting the existence of categories and models that try to explain how we store and access categories. At the end of the chapter, we then throw everything we have learned up in the air and consider the possibility that categories might not even exist, an idea explored by an emerging area of research called ad hoc cognition.

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