Causes of taxonomic sorting by adults: A test of the thematic-to-taxonomic shift

Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The tendency among adults to sort items into taxonomic and thematic categories was examined in two experiments. Past demonstrations of adults' preference for taxonomic categories have usually not used stimuli with a salient thematic organization. The stimuli in Experiment 1 could be divided into three equal-size categories either thematically or taxonomically. Under two sets of instructions the majority of the college-student subjects sorted thematically. In Experiment 2, a subset of the stimuli was changed so that those within it were strongly taxonomically organized. Subjects then preferred to sort the remaining items taxonomically as well. The two experiments explain why many past sorting studies have yielded a taxonomic preference in adults and provide further evidence against a global change from thematic to taxonomic preference with development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)834-839
Number of pages6
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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