Relevance and the Role of Labels in Categorization

Cognitive Science 47 (12):e13395 (2023)
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Language has been shown to influence the ability to form categories. Nevertheless, in most prior work, the effects of language could have been bolstered by the fact that linguistic labels were introduced by the experimenter prior to the categorization task in ways that could have highlighted their relevance for the task. Here, we compared the potency of labels to that of other non‐linguistic cues on how people categorized novel, perceptually ambiguous natural kinds (e.g., flowers or birds). Importantly, we varied whether these cues were explicitly presented as relevant to the categorization task. In Experiment 1, we compared labels, numbers, and symbols: One group of participants was told to pay attention to these cues because they would be helpful (Relevant condition), a second group was told that the cues were irrelevant and should be ignored (Irrelevant condition), and a third group was told nothing about the cues (Neutral condition). Even though task relevance affected overall reliance on cues during categorization, participants were more likely to use labels to determine category boundaries, compared to numbers or symbols. In Experiments 2 and 3, we replicated and fine‐tuned the advantage of labels in more stringent categorization tasks. These results offer novel evidence for the position that labels offer unique indications of category membership, compared to non‐linguistic cues.



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Relevance.D. Sperber & Deirdre Wilson - 1986 - Communication and Cognition: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly Journal 2.
The adaptive nature of human categorization.John R. Anderson - 1991 - Psychological Review 98 (3):409-429.

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