Converging operations on a basic level in event taxonomies

Michael W. Morris, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research on object concepts has identified one level of abstraction as "basic" in cognition and communication. We investigated whether concepts for routine social events have a basic level by replicating the converging operations used to investigate object concepts. In Experiment 1, subjects were presented with event names from a taxonomy and were asked to list the actions comprising the event. Many more actions were listed at the middle than at the highest taxonomic level, without a further increase at the most specific level, paralleling the pattern of superordinate-, basic-, and subordinate-level object concepts. From these action.lists, briefstories were composed for each event. In Experiment 2, subjects madepairwisesimilarity judgments on the stories. The mean similarity ofevents increased with specificity, as expected. But differentiation of categories (within-category similarity compared to between-category similarity) was highest for superordinates, contrary to results with object categories. In Experiment 3, subjects were fastest in recognizing actions as belonging to events named at the basic level. In Experiment 4, subjects predominantly chose basic-level terms to name stories. We conclude that event taxonomies do show basic-level structure, albeit a less sharply defined and less stable structure than in object taxonomies. The benefits and hazards of extending models of object concepts to other entities, such as social events, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-418
Number of pages12
JournalMemory & Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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