A Quantitative Empirical Analysis of the Abstract/Concrete Distinction

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Abstract

This study presents original evidence that abstract and concrete concepts are organized and represented differently in the mind, based on analyses of thousands of concepts in publicly available data sets and computational resources. First, we show that abstract and concrete concepts have differing patterns of association with other concepts. Second, we test recent hypotheses that abstract concepts are organized according to association, whereas concrete concepts are organized according to (semantic) similarity. Third, we present evidence suggesting that concrete representations are more strongly feature-based than abstract concepts. We argue that degree of feature-based structure may fundamentally determine concreteness, and we discuss implications for cognitive and computational models of meaning.

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