Perceptual Cues for Category Representations of Nonhuman Animals

A question raised by the findings of categorization at the basic level by infants concerns the perceived attributes of the stimuli—the diagnostic cues—that allow streams of exemplars from multiple categories to be separated into different category representations. Are the infants using specific parts, the pattern of correlation among the parts, or perhaps overall shape as a basis for categorization? One study indicates that information from the head and face region may provide the means by which infants form a category representation for cats that excludes dogs (Quinn & Eimas, 1996a). Three- and 4-month-olds were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions: Whole Animal, Head Only, and Body Only. Infants in the Whole Animal group were presented with cats and tested with novel cat-novel dog pairings. The Head Only and Body Only groups were familiarized and tested with the same animals as the Whole Animal group, but with their bodies and heads occluded, respectively. The results were that the infants preferred the novel dog stimuli in the Whole Animal and Head Only groups, but not in the Body Only group. The findings suggest that information from the head and face region provides young infants with a sufficient basis to form a category representation for cats that excludes dogs (see also Quinn, Eimas, & Tarr, 2001; Spencer, Quinn, Johnson, & Karmiloff-Smith, 1997). The outcomes imply further that young infants categorically represent nonhuman animals on the basis of perceptual part or feature information.

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