Comparison in the Development of Categories

Dedre Gentner*, Laura L. Namy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

291 Scopus citations


Recent research on children's word learning has led to a paradox. Although word learning appears to be a deep source of insight into conceptual knowledge for children, preschoolers often categorize objects on the basis of shallow perceptual features such as shape. The current studies seek to resolve this discrepancy. We suggest that comparing multiple instances of a category enables children to extract deeper relational commonalities among category members. We examine 4-year-olds' categorization behaviors when asked to select a match for a target object (e.g., an apple) between a perceptually similar, out-of-kind object (e.g., a balloon) and a perceptually different category match (e.g., a banana). Children who learn a novel word as a label for multiple instances of the category are more likely to select the category match over the perceptual match. Children who learn a label for only one instance are equally likely to select either alternative. This effect is present even when individual target instances are more perceptually similar to the perceptual choice than to the category choice. We conclude that structural alignment processes may be important in the development of category understanding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)487-513
Number of pages27
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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