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Similarity chains in the transformational paradigm

Pothos, E. M., Hahn, U. & Prat-Sala, M. (2009). Similarity chains in the transformational paradigm. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 21(7), pp. 1100-1120. doi: 10.1080/09541440802485339


Rips’ (1989) results with the transformational paradigm have often been cited as supporting accounts of categorisation not based on similarity, such as involving necessary or sufficient features (or a belief in such features), which guarantee a categorisation outcome once their presence has been established. We discuss a similarity account of the transformational paradigm based on similarity chains, which predicts that when the transformation is more gradual the identity of the transformed object is less likely to change. Conversely, we suggest that an essentialist approach to categorisation predicts that essences are more likely to change in gradual transformations, across generations, as is the case with evolutionary change of species. In two experiments we examined the scope of the similarity versus the essentialist account in the transformational paradigm. With space aliens, the similarity account was superior to the essentialist one, but the converse was true with earth creatures. We suggest that an essentialist mode of categorisation is more likely than a similarity one for stimuli that are in better correspondence with our naïve understanding of the world.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in European Journal of Cognitive Psychology on 16/09/2009, available online:
Publisher Keywords: Categorisation, Critical features, Essentialism, General knowledge
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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