Why are different features central for natural kinds and artifacts?: the role of causal status in determining feature centrality

Cognition. 1998 Dec;69(2):135-78. doi: 10.1016/s0010-0277(98)00063-8.


Ahn and Lassaline [Ahn, W., Lassaline, M.E., 1995. Causal structure in categorization. Proceedings of the Seventeenth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Pittsburgh, PA, pp. 521-526] recently proposed a causal status hypothesis which states that features that play a causal role in a relational structure are more central than their effects. This hypothesis can account for previous research demonstrating that compositional features are generally important for natural kinds but functional features are generally important for artifacts. The causal status hypothesis explains this category-feature interaction effect in terms of differences in the causal status of compositional and functional features between natural kinds and artifacts. Experiments 1 and 2 examined real-life categories used in previous studies, and found positive correlations between the causal status of the features and their centrality across natural and artifactual kinds. Experiments 3 and 4 manipulated the causal status of compositional and functional features in artificial categories, and showed that it was causal status rather than the interaction between the type of feature and the type of category per se that accounted for feature centrality. The implications of these results on the distinctions between natural kinds and artifacts are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Artifacts
  • Attention*
  • Concept Formation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Problem Solving