Concepts and Conceptual Structure

Douglas L. Medin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

763 Scopus citations


Research and theory on categorization and conceptual structure have recently undergone two major shifts. The first shift is from the assumption that concepts have defining properties (the classical view) to the idea that concept representations may be based on properties that are only characteristic or typical of category examples (the probabilistic view). Both the probabilistic view and the classical view assume that categorization is driven by similarity relations. A major problem with describing category structure in terms of similarity is that the notion of similarity is too unconstrained to give an account of conceptual coherence. The second major shift is from the idea that concepts are organized by similarity to the idea that concepts are organized around theories. In this article, the evidence and rationale associated with these shifts are described, and one means of integrating similarity-based and theory-driven categorization is outlined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1469-1481
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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