The Effects of Prior Processing Episodes on Basic-level Superiority

Emilie L. Lin, Gregory L. Murphy, Edward J. Shoben

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Four experiments were conducted to investigate the effects of prior processing episodes on people's preference for categorizing objects at the basic level (e.g. dog) relative to their preference for categorizing at the superordinate (e.g. animal) and the subordinate (e.g. Dalmation) levels. The prior processing episode in Experiment 1 was designed to induce subjects to activate representations at the superordinate level, and those in the remaining experiments were designed to induce subjects to differentiate objects at the subordinate level. After the pior processing episodes, subjects performed either a free naming or a picture categorization task that required them to decide whether an illustrated object belonged to a specified category. Results showed that prior processing episodes modestly reduced the superiority of basic level to superordinate level and subordinate level in categorization but not in free naming. The results suggest that the basic-level advantage is subject to the effects of context, but the effects are not as strong as the context effects on other aspects of categorization behaviour (e.g. rating typicality of a category member). Hence, the preference for the basic level is a somewhat more stable, invariant aspect of conceptual representation. Possible determinations of this stability are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-48
Number of pages24
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A: Human Experimental Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology


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