Perceptual Categorization

In addition to developing representations for coherent objects depicted in a single presentation of visual pattern information, members of the human species must at some point during development become capable of forming representations that are inclusive of numerous objects appearing over a

more extended period of time. In compiling these representations inclusive of multiple items, individuals are apparently detecting some basis of equivalence among them. This basis could be perceptual, functional, conceptual, or some even more abstract combination of the attributes possessed by the items. Because representations of this nature are normally developed for categories of items (e.g., dogs, chairs), I have referred to them in past writings as category representations (Quinn, 2002b). Category representations of many common kinds of objects may be essential to (1) organizing memory, and (2) permitting us to respond to many novel objects with familiarity. The latter occurs because of the recognition of equivalence among certain attributes detected from the objects, and maintained in their category representations (Murphy, 2002).

Categorization is considered to be a critical cognitive ability because a system of mental representation that lacked category representations would be dominated by unrelated instance information and would face the problem of having to respond anew to each novel object encountered (Smith & Medin, 1981). Indeed, the importance of category representations to daily cognitive functioning has led Thelen and Smith (1994) to argue that categorization is the "primitive in all behavior and mental functioning" (p. 143).

Although there has been a historical tradition among scholars of cognitive development to consider the ability to form category representations to be an achievement of childhood (Bruner, Olver, & Greenfield, 1966; Vygotsky, 1962), more modern work has focused on the abilities of infants and toddlers to respond categorically to common object types (Cohen & Strauss, 1979; Mandler & McDonough, 1993; Mervis, 1987; Oakes, Madole, & Cohen, 1991; Quinn & Eimas, 1996b; Waxman & Markow, 1995; Xu & Carey, 1996; Younger, 1990). The chapter will now consider the evidence on categorization by these younger participants, with emphasis on studies of categorization of realistic photographic exemplars of animals and artifacts conducted with 3- to 4-month-olds in the author's laboratory. Particular issues of current contention include exemplar versus prototype storage of category information in memory, the perceptual versus conceptual basis for early object categories, and the relative roles of learning occurring within the laboratory versus knowledge acquired prior to arrival at the laboratory.

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