Prototypes in category learning: the effects of category size, category structure, and stimulus complexity

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2001 May;27(3):775-99.


Although research in categorization has sometimes been motivated by prototype theory, recent studies have favored exemplar theory. However, some of these studies focused on small, poorly differentiated categories composed of simple, 4-dimensional stimuli. Some analyzed the aggregate data of entire groups. Some compared powerful multiplicative exemplar models to less powerful additive prototype models. Here, comparable prototype and exemplar models were fit to individual-participant data in 4 experiments that sampled category sets varying in size, level of category structure, and stimulus complexity (dimensionality). The prototype model always fit the observed data better than the exemplar model did. Prototype-based processes seemed especially relevant when participants learned categories that were larger or contained more complex stimuli.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Association Learning
  • Concept Formation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Set, Psychology*