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Chapter 8


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Blaine Mullins

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CHAPTER 8 Concepts Chapter Summary This chapter examines the nature of concepts and how we acquire and use them. They are used by individuals to categorize events or objects, and each concept has attributes by which they are classi- fied. There are many ways that attributes can be used to form concepts, including a conjunctive, dis- junctive, and relational. A criterial attribute, for instance, is a prerequisite to being part of a particu- lar concept. Both selection and reception tasks can be used to study concepts. In selection tasks, where par- ticipants select the instances, individuals generally use conservative focusing in order to determine can also make use of focus gambling, simultaneous scanning, and successive scanning. How-d. Participants ever, in reception tasks, where the experimenter is in control of the order of presentation, partici- pants use two different strategies: wholist or partist. The wholist strategy is when a person initially hypothesizes that all attributes are members of the concept, while a partist strategy involves the hypothesis that only some of the attributes are members of the concept. The laboratory research that led to many of these concepts has been criticized for a lack of ecological validity. It was argued that the formation of real world concepts is much more complex and should be studied using con- cepts that people actually use. By studying the ways in which people attain knowledge about artificial grammars, Reber distin- guished implicit and explicit learning, referring to learning without intentionality versus intentional learning, respectively. In implicit learning conditions, individuals often perform as well as others in explicit learning groups, which suggests that they know something without being able to pinpoint exactly what it is that they know (tacit knowledge). Reber maintained that the cognitive uncon- scious has a key function in cognition, such as in language acquisition. However, later researchers have de-emphasized the importance of unconscious cognitive processes, showing that implicit learn- ing can be accompanied by awareness. Cognition, Fifth Edition © Oxford University Press Canada, 2013 It has been argued by Wittgenstein that rather than sharing common features, concepts have family resemblances, features that overlap in a complicated manner. Following this argument, Rosh, in studying structures of colour categories, maintained that some instances are more proto- typical (representative) than others. Furthermore, she developed two principles important to con- cept use: cognitive economy and perceived world structure (correlated attributes). Concepts may be organized vertically (superordinate, basic, and subordinate levels) and horizontally (graded structure). Examples of concepts that have a graded structure are goal-derived categories (ad hoc categories). It has also been argued that cognition has a goal of facilitating interaction with the environ- ment—in other words, that it is embodied. Similarly, categories can be created based on a specific need or purpose based on a particular occasion. Such goal-derived categories may contain members with no attributes in common. The act of conceptualizing enables people to construct temporary categories and also involves perceptual symbol systems, effectively connecting perception with action. As demonstrated by studies on category-specific deficits (selective deficits in knowledge resulting from brain damage), a mere sensory-functional theory is insufficient to account for concep- tual deficits. Primary metaphors connect sensory-motor and other forms of experience. In fact, certain expressions become so common that they create double-function words. Our understanding of biology depends on a conceptual model that is accountable for domain- specific knowledge. Folk biology, or the concepts that people make use of to understand living things, is domain specific. Similarly, each culture has a folk taxonomy, or a hierarchal classification system. A case study of Adam provided evidence for the domain-specific module being responsible for folk biology. Adam had brain damage when he was only one day old, and many years later showed a selective deficit for naming living things. Key Concepts Category-specific deficits As a result of brain damage, some people may show a selective deficit in knowledge. (p. 256) Cognitive unconscious hypothesis The hypothesis that implicit learning represents an evolution- arily primitive form of unconscious cognition. (p. 245) Commitment heuristic A strategy that involves believing that something is true when it is only like- ly to be true. (p. 249) Conceptual module A module that is responsible for domain-specific knowledge. (p. 258) Conservative focusing Concept formation strategy of actively formulating hypotheses and select- ing instances to see if your hypotheses are correct by focusing on only one attribute at a time and by selecting instances that vary only in that attribute. (p. 242) Correlated attributes The hypothesis that particular combinations of attributes of objects tend to occur more frequently than do other combinations. (p. 249) Criterial attribute An attribute that is necessary for something to be an instance of a concept. (p. 241) Cognition, Fifth Edition © Oxford University Press Canada, 2013 Domain-specific knowledge Knowledge that is the result of a module that deals exclusively with a particular subject matter. (p. 258) Double-function words (Asch) Words like warm that refer both to physical and psychological properties. (p. 257) Embodied cognition The role of cognition is to facilitate successful interaction with the environ- ment. (p. 252) Family resemblance (Wittgenstein) Instances of concepts that possess overlapping features, without any features being common to all. (p. 248) Focus gambling Concept formation strategy of selecting instances that vary from the first positive instance in more than one attribute. (p. 243) Folk biology The concepts that ordinary folk use to understand living things. (p. 258) Folk taxonomy A classification system that is composed of a hierarchy of groups. (p. 258) Goal-derived categories (Barsalou) Categories invented for a specific purpose on a particular oc- casion. (p. 252) Graded structure A concept in which some members of the cate
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