Psychology Web Module Notes
Categories and Concepts
Your interactions with the world are flooded with colours, shapes, textures, smells, tastes and
sounds, and yet you are still able to make sense of it all and take appropriate action.
What allows us to do this is caused by 2 cognitive mechanisms: attention (which helps you to
focus finite mental resources on key parts of the active scene) and memory (which can help you
recall specific behaviours which are appropriate to your current needs).
As well as your cognitive ability to put people, objects and ideas into categories and concepts
helps you to efficiently process through the incoming data blitz and make appropriate
Functions of Categorization
4 basic functions: classification, understanding, predicting and communication.
Classification- allows you to treat objects that appear differently as belonging together.
Example: green apples, red apples and yellow apples can appear different on a colour
dimension, but by classifying them all as ‘apples’ you can treat them similarly and assume that
they are safe to eat.
Understanding- being able to interpret situations by categorization
Example: the scene in front of us we see as 2 people shouting, we immediately understand that
they are probably in a fight and likely do not need your opinion.
Predicting- by categorizing your current experience and comparing it to similar experiences in
memory, you can make predictions about your current situation.
Example: if you know that the creature in front of you is a dog, you can predict that it would like
to be scratched behind its ears.
Communication- using the category name allows for efficient communication; many words in
our language refer to some type of category or concept.
Illusion of the Expert
The feeling that something must be simple because you are so good at it
Categorization is a very complex field with a number of conflicting theories seeking to explain
the ease with which humans are able to categorize.
For simple categorization, we are quite susceptible to the illusion of the expert; it is easy for us,
so it must have a simple rule.
But if you consider the more complex categories like fruit and furniture, you can see that the
number of people who can identify a simple categorization rule decreases.
However, making rules to categorize certain objects and being sure to exclude others, is a lot
harder than you think!
Suggests that we categorize objects by comparing them to an internal representation of the
category called a prototype.
Prototypes- are thought to be the average, or ‘best’ member of a category.
Example: perhaps you picture a bird, it may have l