The Role of Theories in Conceptual Coherence

Gregory L. Murphy, Douglas L. Medin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The question of what makes a concept coherent (what makes its members form a comprehensible class) has received a variety of answers. In this article we review accounts based on similarity, feature correlations, and various theories of categorization. We find that each theory provides an inadequate account of conceptual coherence (or no account at all) because none provides enough constraints on possible concepts. We propose that concepts are coherent to the extent that they fit people's background knowledge or naive theories about the world. These theories help to relate the concepts in a domain and to structure the attributes that are internal to a concept. Evidence of the influence of theories on various conceptual tasks is presented, and the possible importance of theories in cognitive development is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-316
Number of pages28
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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