Central tendencies, extreme points, and prototype enhancement effects in ill-defined perceptual categorization

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In three perceptual classification experiments involving ill-defined category structures, extreme prototype enhancement effects were observed in which prototypes were classified more accurately than other category instances. Such empirical findings can prove theoretically challenging to exemplar-based models of categorization if prototypes are psychological central tendencies of category instances. We found instead that category prototypes were sometimes better characterized as psychological extreme points relative to contrast categories. Extending a classic and widely cited study (Posner & Keele, 1968), participants learned categories created from distortions of dot patterns arranged in familiar shapes. Participants then made pairwise similarity judgements of the patterns. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) analyses of the similarity data revealed the prototypes to be psychological extreme points, not central tendencies. Evidence for extreme point representations was also found for novel prototype patterns displaying a symmetry structure and for prototypes of grid patterns used in recent studies by McLaren and colleagues (McLaren, Bennet, Guttman-Nahir, Kim, & M ackintosh, 1995). When used in combination with the derived M DS solutions, an exemplar-based model of categorization, the Generalized Context Model (Nosofsky, 1986), provided good fits to the observed categorization data in all three experiments.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02724980042000084

Affiliations: 1: Vanderbilt University, Nashville, U.S.A. 2: Indiana University, Bloomington, U.S.A.

Publication date: February 1, 2001

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