Effects of background knowledge on category construction

Thomas L. Spalding, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In category construction, participants are commonly asked to sort items into 2 groups. Although natural categories have a family resemblance (FR) structure, participants rarely construct FR categories in the sorting task. In previous research, participants constructed FR categories when the features of the instances could be integrated into a coherent category, if the category theme was provided. In Experiments 1-4, participants constructed more FR categories with thematic materials than with nonthematic materials, even without being cued with the theme. Experiments 5A and 5B showed that when instances contained conflicting features (i.e., features that are contradictory given background knowledge) participants were not more likely to construct FR categories with the thematic materials, unless they had a way of discounting such features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)525-538
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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