Evaluating Theories Of Categorisation

In this chapter, we have reviewed four main accounts of the nature of categorisation and concepts. We have seen that there is considerable diversity in these accounts:

• The classical, defining-attribute view.

• The exemplar-based view.

• The explanation-based view.

The truth about categorisation is probably a mixture of aspects of all of these accounts.

For the most part there are really too many evidential problems with the defining-attribute view for it to be properly considered a contender. Although there are some effects that question the dependency between typicality judgements and concept definitions (see e.g., Armstrong et al., 1983) there is so much negative evidence against this theory that it almost seems to be a straw man. As we have seen, the prototype and exemplar views do a much better job of handling the evidence of typicality effects, conceptual hierarchies, and category induction. Of these two, at present, the balance of evidence tips in favour of the exemplar theories, in that their proposal that people work from instances seems to supply a greater flexibility than is delivered by the idea of a central prototype. However, it must be remembered that there are occasions (e.g., in verifying inductive statements) where some abstract description of the members of a category appears to play a role.

However, the exemplar view is not in itself sufficient to account for all of the effects found. There are more rule-governed, theory-based aspects to conceptualisation that appear to depend on a much more relationally structured representation that can use very different processes to determine similarity (e.g., processes like structural alignment).

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