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One or two dimensions in spontaneous classification: A simplicity approach

Pothos, E. M. & Close, J. (2008). One or two dimensions in spontaneous classification: A simplicity approach. Cognition, 107(2), pp. 581-602. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2007.11.007


When participants are asked to spontaneously categorize a set of items, they typically produce unidimensional classifications, i.e., categorize the items on the basis of only one of their dimensions of variation. We examine whether it is possible to predict unidimensional vs. two-dimensional classification on the basis of the abstract stimulus structure, by employing Pothos and Chater’s simplicity model of spontaneous categorization [Pothos, E. M., & Chater, N. (2002). A simplicity principle in unsupervised human categorization. Cognitive Science, 26, 303–343]. The simplicity model provides a quantitative measure of how intuitive a particular classification is. With objects represented in two dimensions, we propose that a unidimensional classification will be preferred if it is more intuitive than all possible two-dimensional ones, and vice versa. Empirical results supporting this proposal are reported. Implications for Goodman’s paradox are discussed.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Cognition. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Cognition Volume 107, Issue 2, May 2008, Pages 581–602,
Publisher Keywords: Unsupervised categorization, Unidimensional/multidimensional sorting, Similarity, Simplicity
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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