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Mervis, C. B., & Rosch, E. (1981). Categorization of natural objects. Annual Review of Psychology, 32(1), 89–115. 
Added by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard (2/16/24, 3:17 PM)   Last edited by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard (2/20/24, 12:01 PM)
Resource type: Journal Article
Language: en: English
Peer reviewed
DOI: 10.1146/
BibTeX citation key: Mervis1981
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Categories: General
Keywords: Categorization, Philosophy
Creators: Mervis, Rosch
Publisher: American Psychological Association (Washington)
Collection: Annual Review of Psychology
Views: 186/847
"Reviews a new field of research and theory concerning concepts and categories, which are fed by 2 major trends: (1) the study of naturalistic categories as influenced by input from anthropology, philosophy, and developmental psychology, and (2) the modeling of natural concepts in the field of semantic memory. Empirical findings have established that categories are internally structured by gradients of representativeness, category boundaries are not necessarily definite, and there is a close relation between attribute clusters and the structure and formation of categories. Related topics discussed are the nonarbitrary nature of categories, nonequivalence of category members, indeterminacy of category membership and representation, the nature of abstraction, decomposability of categories into elements, and the nature of attributes."
Outlines, and presents evidence for and against, six previously widely held assumptions about categories and their formation:
  1. Arbitrariness of categories. Are there any a priori reasons for dividing objects into categories, or is this division initially arbitrary?
  2. Equivalence of category members. Are all category members equally representative of the category, as has often been assumed?
  3. Determinacy of category membership and representation. Are categories specified by necessary and sufficient conditions for membership? Are boundaries of categories well defined?
  4. The nature of abstraction. How much abstraction is required—that is, do we need only memory for individual exemplars to account for categorization? Or, at the other extreme, are higher-order abstractions of general knowledge, beyond the individual categories, necessary?
  5. Decomposability of categories into elements. Does a reasonable explanation of objects consist in their decomposition into elementary qualities?
  6. The nature of attributes. What are the characteristics of these "attributes" into which categories are to be decomposed?


Added by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard  Last edited by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard
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