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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Labels, Even Arbitrary Ones, Facilitate Categorization


Labels may play a role in the formation and acquisition of object categories. We investigated this using a free-categorization task, manipulating the presence or absence of labels and whether labels were random or reinforced one of two alternative categorization cues (taxonomic or thematic relationships). When labels were absent, participants used thematic and taxonomic cues equally to categorize stimuli. When present, labels were used as the primary cue for category formation, with random labels leading participants to attend less to taxonomic and thematic relations between stimuli. When labels redundantly reinforced either thematic or taxonomic cues, the use of the cue in question was boosted along with the use of labels as a cue for categorization. Most interestingly, in spite of previously observed associations between labels and taxonomic grouping, labels did not preferentially boost the use of either taxonomic or thematic cues in comparison with the other.

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