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Categorization: The View from Animal Cognition

Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, 738 Urban Life Building, 140 Decatur St., Atlanta, GA 30303, USA
Department of Psychology, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York; Park Hall Room 204, Buffalo, NY 14260, USA
Language Research Center, Georgia State University, 3401 Panthersville Rd, Decatur, GA 30034, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Jennifer Vonk
Behav. Sci. 2016, 6(2), 12;
Received: 6 April 2016 / Revised: 21 May 2016 / Accepted: 31 May 2016 / Published: 15 June 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Animal Cognition)
PDF [6188 KB, uploaded 15 June 2016]


Exemplar, prototype, and rule theory have organized much of the enormous literature on categorization. From this theoretical foundation have arisen the two primary debates in the literature—the prototype-exemplar debate and the single system-multiple systems debate. We review these theories and debates. Then, we examine the contribution that animal-cognition studies have made to them. Animals have been crucial behavioral ambassadors to the literature on categorization. They reveal the roots of human categorization, the basic assumptions of vertebrates entering category tasks, the surprising weakness of exemplar memory as a category-learning strategy. They show that a unitary exemplar theory of categorization is insufficient to explain human and animal categorization. They show that a multiple-systems theoretical account—encompassing exemplars, prototypes, and rules—will be required for a complete explanation. They show the value of a fitness perspective in understanding categorization, and the value of giving categorization an evolutionary depth and phylogenetic breadth. They raise important questions about the internal similarity structure of natural kinds and categories. They demonstrate strong continuities with humans in categorization, but discontinuities, too. Categorization’s great debates are resolving themselves, and to these resolutions animals have made crucial contributions. View Full-Text
Keywords: category learning; categorization; cognitive evolution; comparative cognition; animal cognition category learning; categorization; cognitive evolution; comparative cognition; animal cognition

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Smith, J.D.; Zakrzewski, A.C.; Johnson, J.M.; Valleau, J.C.; Church, B.A. Categorization: The View from Animal Cognition. Behav. Sci. 2016, 6, 12.

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