A model of category effects on reports from memory is presented. The model holds that stimuli are represented at 2 levels of detail: a fine-grain value and a category. When memory is inexact but people must report an exact value, they use estimation processes that combine the remembered stimulus value with category information. The proposed estimation processes include truncation at category boundaries and weighting with a central (prototypic) category value. These processes introduce bias in reporting even when memory is unbiased, but nevertheless may improve overall accuracy (by decreasing the variability of reports). Four experiments are presented in which people report the location of a dot in a circle. Subjects spontaneously impose horizontal and vertical boundaries that divide the circle into quadrants. They misplace dots toward a central (prototypic) location in each quadrant, as predicted by the model. The proposed model has broad implications; notably, it has the potential to explain biases of the sort described in psychophysics (contraction bias and the bias captured by Weber's law) as well as asymmetries in similarity judgments, without positing distorted representations of physical scales.
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