A two-stage model of category construction

Woo Kyoung Ahn*, Douglas L. Medin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


The current consensus is that most natural categories are not organized around strict definitions (a list of singly necessary and jointly sufficient features) but rather according to a family resemblance (FR) principle: Objects belong to the same category because they are similar to each other and dissimilar to objects in contrast categories. A number of computational models of category construction have been developed to provide an account of how and why people create FR categories (Anderson, 1990; Fisher, 1987). Surprisingly, however, only a few experiments on category construction or free sorting have been run and they suggest that people do not sort examples by the FR principle. We report several new experiments and a two-stage model for category construction. This model is contrasted with a variety of other models with respect to their ability to account for when FR sorting will and will not occur. The experiments serve to identify one basis for FR sorting and to support the two-stage model. The distinctive property of the two-stage model is that it assumes that people impose more structure than the examples support in the first stage and that the second stage adjusts for this difference between preferred and perceived structure. We speculate that people do not simply assimilate probabilistic structures but rather organize them in terms of discrete structures plus noise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-121
Number of pages41
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


Dive into the research topics of 'A two-stage model of category construction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this