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Trends Cogn Sci. 2003 Jun;7(6):246-251.

The role of similarity in the development of categorization.

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Center for Cognitive Science, 208C Ohio Stadium East 1961, Tuttle Park Place, The Ohio State University, 43210, Columbus, OH, USA


Early in development, humans exhibit the ability to form categories and overlook differences for the sake of generality. This ability poses several important questions: How does categorization arise? What processes underlie category formation? And how are categories mentally represented? We argue that the development of categorization is grounded in perceptual and attentional mechanisms capable of detecting multiple correspondences or similarities in the environment. We present evidence that: (a) similarity can drive categorization early in development; and (b) early in development, humans have powerful learning mechanisms that enable them to extract regularities in the environment. We conclude that, despite remaining challenges, the similarity-based approach offers a promising account of the development of categorization.


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