Categorization and Concepts

Goldstone, R. L., Kersten, A., & Carvalho, P. F. (2017).  Categorization and Concepts.  In J. Wixted (Ed.) Stevens’ Handbook of Experimental Psychology and Cognitive neuroscience, Fourth Edition, Volume Three: Language & Thought.  New Jersey: Wiley.  (pp. 275-317).

Concepts are the building blocks of thought.¬†They are critically involved when we reason,¬†make inferences, and try to generalize¬†our previous experiences to new situations.¬†Behind every word in every language lies¬†a concept, although there are concepts, like¬†the small plastic tubes attached to the ends¬†of shoelaces, that we are familiar with and¬†can think about even if we do not know¬†that they are called aglets . Concepts are¬†indispensable to human cognition because¬†they take the ‚Äúblooming, buzzing confusion‚Ä̬†(James, 1890, p. 488) of disorganized¬†sensory experiences and establish order¬†through mental categories. These mental¬†categories allow us to make sense of the¬†world and predict how worldly entities will¬†behave. We see, hear, interpret, remember,¬†understand, and talk about our world through¬†our concepts, and so it is worthy of reflection¬†time to establish where concepts come¬†from, how they work, and how they can¬†best be learned and deployed to suit our¬†cognitive needs.

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