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Effects of classification context on categorization in natural categories

Hampton, J. A., Dubois, D. & Yeh, W. (2006). Effects of classification context on categorization in natural categories. Memory & Cognition, 34(7), pp. 1431-1443. doi: 10.3758/BF03195908


The patterns of classification of borderline instances of eight common taxonomic categories were examined under three different instructional conditions to test two predictions: first, that lack of a specified context contributes to vagueness in categorization, and second, that altering the purpose of classification can lead to greater or lesser dependence on similarity in classification. The instructional conditions contrasted purely pragmatic with more technical/quasi-legal contexts as purposes for classification, and these were compared with a no-context control. The measures of category vagueness were between-subjects disagreement and within-subjects consistency, and the measures of similarity based categorization were category breadth and the correlation of instance categorization probability with mean rated typicality, independently measured in a neutral context. Contrary to predictions, none of the measures of vagueness, reliability, category breadth, or correlation with typicality were generally affected by the instructional setting as a function of pragmatic versus technical purposes. Only one subcondition, in which a situational context was implied in addition to a purposive context, produced a significant change in categorization. Further experiments demonstrated that the effect of context was not increased when participants talked their way through the task, and that a technical context did not elicit more all-or-none categorization than did a pragmatic context. These findings place an important boundary condition on the effects of instructional context on conceptual categorization.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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