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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Categorical Perception Beyond the Basic Level: The Case of Warm and Cool Colors.

  • Author(s): Holmes, Kevin J
  • Regier, Terry
  • et al.

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Categories can affect our perception of the world, rendering between-category differences more salient than within-category ones. Across many studies, such categorical perception (CP) has been observed for the basic-level categories of one's native language. Other research points to categorical distinctions beyond the basic level, but it does not demonstrate CP for such distinctions. Here we provide such a demonstration. Specifically, we show CP in English speakers for the non-basic distinction between "warm" and "cool" colors, claimed to represent the earliest stage of color lexicon evolution. Notably, the advantage for discriminating colors that straddle the warm-cool boundary was restricted to the right visual field-the same behavioral signature previously observed for basic-level categories. This pattern held in a replication experiment with increased power. Our findings show that categorical distinctions beyond the basic-level repertoire of one's native language are psychologically salient and may be spontaneously accessed during normal perceptual processing.

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