Novel labels increase category coherence, but only when people have the goal to coordinate

Ellise Suffill*, Holly Branigan, Martin Pickering

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

From infancy, we recognize that labels denote category membership and help us to identify the critical features that objects within a category share. Labels not only reflect how we categorize, but also allow us to communicate and share categories with others. Given the special status of labels as markers of category membership, do novel labels (i.e., non-words) affect the way in which adults select dimensions for categorization in unsupervised settings? Additionally, is the purpose of this effect primarily coordinative (i.e., do labels promote shared understanding of how we categorize objects)? To address this, we conducted two experiments in which participants individually categorized images of mountains with or without novel labels, and with or without a goal of coordination, within a non-communicative paradigm. People who sorted items with novel labels had more similar categories than people who sorted without labels only when they were told that their categories should make sense to other people, and not otherwise. We argue that sorters' goals determine whether novel labels promote the development of socially coherent categories.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12796
JournalCognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal
Issue number11
Early online date28 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • categorization
  • coherence
  • communicative goals
  • coordination
  • labeling


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