Ideals and Category Typicality

ShinWoo Kim, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Barsalou (1985) argued that exemplars that serve category goals become more typical category members. Although this claim has received support, we investigated (a) whether categories have a single ideal, as negatively valenced categories (e.g., cigarette) often have conflicting goals, and (b) whether ideal items are in fact typical, as they often have unusual attributes. Because past studies on ideals were largely correlational and often used categories not strongly associated to goals (e.g., tree, bird, fish), we took an experimental approach, using categories with obvious goals. Our results indicated that exemplars having goal-fulfilling characteristics are generally judged as less typical than exemplars with average features. Also, although subjects had a general consensus on the ideals of neutral and positive categories, they held opposing opinions on the ideals of the negatively valenced categories. We found that this bimodality in idealness perception was due to differing perspectives taken on the categories; however, perspectives that changed idealness of category exemplars did not influence their typicality. In short, ideal exemplars that best serve category goals are not necessarily perceived as typical. We contrast the goal-fulfilling aspect of ideals with the structural notion of extreme values (e.g., very tall trees), which may influence typicality through other mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1092-1112
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Categories
  • Goals
  • Ideals
  • Perspective taking
  • Typicality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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