22 Concepts and Categorization

Experimental Psychology


  1. Robert L. Goldstone PhD1,
  2. Alan Kersten PhD2,
  3. Paulo F. Carvalho MS3

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop204022

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Goldstone, R. L., Kersten, A. and Carvalho, P. F. 2012. Concepts and Categorization . Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 4:VIII:22.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Indiana University, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Bloomington, IN

  2. 2

    Florida Atlantic University, Department of Psychology, Boca Raton, FL

  3. 3

    Indiana University, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Bloomington, IN

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


Human knowledge is organized by concepts. Our access to the world is filtered through our concepts. Concepts allow us to communicate, to categorize objects and events into inductively powerful groups, to construct complicated thoughts out of more elementary mental building blocks, and to conserve memory resources by facilitating encodings that incorporate important rather than extraneous information. Alternative theories have proposed that concepts are represented by rules, prototypical category members, many specific exemplars, and structured theories. We consider empirical evidence bearing on these proposals, which, on balance, recommends pluralism, with different representations implicated in different situations. Although concepts are connected to one another in a dense conceptual network, it is also crucial for concepts to connect to the external world via perception and action, as well as language. We consider several theoretical and empirical arguments for specific mechanisms by which concepts are shaped by, and in turn shape, our perceptual and linguistic processes. Finally, we consider future directions for research on concepts and categorization, emphasizing links to other fields such as object recognition and developmental psychology, the development and testing of computational models, and applications of category learning to education.


  • concepts;
  • learning;
  • prototype;
  • exemplar;
  • representation