Concepts and Categories: Memory, Meaning, and Metaphysics

Lance Rips*, Edward E. Smith, Douglas L Medin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

26 Scopus citations


The psychological study of concepts has two main goals: explaining how people's knowledge of categories such as tables or cats enables them to classify or recognize members of those categories, and explaining how knowledge of word meanings (e.g., the meaning of table and cat) enables people to make inferences and to compute the meanings of phrases and sentences. We review current theories and data relevant to these two functions of concepts, including recent insights from cognitive neuropsychology. Both kinds of theories have evolved in ways that suggest that people make use of mental representations at several levels of complexity, from sparse, atomic concepts to complex, knowledge-intensive ones. We examine the implications of this variety for issues including psychological essentialism and domain specificity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199968718
ISBN (Print)9780199734689
StatePublished - Nov 21 2012


  • Categories
  • Concepts
  • Essentialism
  • Exemplars
  • Folk biology
  • Generics
  • Polysemy
  • Prototypes
  • Semantics
  • Sortals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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