Principle-Based Inferences In Young Children's Categorization: Revisiting The Impact Of Function On The Naming Of Artifacts

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Cognitive Development


Three parallel studies investigated the influence of principle-based inferences and unprincipled similarity relations on new category learning by 3- to 6-year-old children. One of two possible functions of a single novel artifact (which differed between studies) was modeled for and practiced by children, who then judged which test objects got the same name as the original. Test objects, either globally similar or dissimilar in appearance from the original, were designed such that each could be inferred to afford only one of the two possible functions. (Actual functions of the test objects were not directly observed.) Patterns of categorization depended systematically on which original function had been experienced, indicating that the children used a common-function principle to guide their extension of the name. Therefore, categorization into newly learned categories may activate self-initiated, principle-based reasoning in young children. The conditions that prompt such categorization processes in young children are discussed, although a role for unprincipled similarity relations is not denied.

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