When Experimental Findings Conflict With Everyday Observations: Reflections On Children's Category Learning

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Child Development


Attempts to reconcile the ease with which young children naturally learn everyday categories with their frequent difficulty in acquiring artificial categories in the laboratory have taken different forms. Kemler Nelson suggested that one reason for the discrepancy may be that many everyday object categories have a family-resemblance structure that can be learned by means of a holistic mode of processing. While Ward et al. have recently questioned this account of why children learn family-resemblance categories easily, conclusions based on their laboratory data fail to provide a good explanation of the real-world case. Accordingly, it is suggested that the laboratory family-resemblance task used by these previous investigators may be unrepresentative and may fail to mimic crucial aspects of the everyday category-learning context. It is also suggested that aspects of Ward et al.'s methodology may lead them to underestimate holistic (or nonselective) processing.

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