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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Child categorization

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Abstract Categorization is a process that spans all of development, beginning in earliest infancy yet changing as children's knowledge and cognitive skills develop. In this review article, we address three core issues regarding childhood categorization. First, we discuss the extent to which early categories are rooted in perceptual similarity versus knowledge‐enriched theories. We argue for a composite perspective in which categories are steeped in commonsense theories from a young age but also are informed by low‐level similarity and associative learning cues. Second, we examine the role of language in early categorization. We review evidence to suggest that language is a powerful means of expressing, communicating, shaping, and supporting category knowledge. Finally, we consider categories in context. We discuss sources of variability and flexibility in children's categories, as well as the ways in which children's categories are used within larger knowledge systems (e.g., to form analogies, make inferences, or construct theories). Categorization is a process that is intrinsically tied to nearly all aspects of cognition, and its study provides insight into cognitive development, broadly construed. WIREs Cogn Sci 2011 2 95–105 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.96 This article is categorized under: Linguistics > Language Acquisition Psychology > Development and Aging Psychology > Language

Approximately 50% of 4‐ and 5‐year olds spontaneously provided labels based on the causal features of the blocks rather than the perceptual features of the blocks (reprinted with permission from Ref 22. Copyright 2010 Wiley‐Blackwell).

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Children who hear ‘kevtas are woolly’ are more likely to select the differently shaped woolly item as a kevta rather than the same‐shaped non‐woolly item (reprinted with permission from Ref 57. Copyright 2008 American Psychological Association).

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(a) Sample item set. (b) Frequency with which 13‐month olds perform target action (e.g., rattle) as a function of similarity to the target and same or different label from the target (reprinted with permission from Ref 31. Copyright 2004 Wiley‐Blackwell).

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Preschool children who learn a new fact about the target bird are more likely to generalize that fact to an atypical bird than to a pterodactyl, indicating that the category label can be more important than outward appearances in children's inductive inferences (reprinted with permission from Ref 29. Copyright 1990 American Psychological Association).

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