Categorical perception

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci. 2010 Jan;1(1):69-78. doi: 10.1002/wcs.26. Epub 2009 Dec 23.


Categorical perception (CP) is the phenomenon by which the categories possessed by an observer influences the observers' perception. Experimentally, CP is revealed when an observer's ability to make perceptual discriminations between things is better when those things belong to different categories rather than the same category, controlling for the physical difference between the things. We consider several core questions related to CP: Is it caused by innate and/or learned categories, how early in the information processing stream do categories influence perception, and what is the relation between ongoing linguistic processing and CP? CP for both speech and visual entities are surveyed, as are computational and mathematical models of CP. CP is an important phenomenon in cognitive science because it represents an essential adaptation of perception to support categorizations that an organism needs to make. Sensory signals that could be linearly related to physical qualities are warped in a nonlinear manner, transforming analog inputs into quasi-digital, quasi-symbolic encodings. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.