Taxonomic Knowledge: What Kind and When?


  • The research was supported in part by NSF grant no. BNS 82–08904 to the third author. Portions of this work were reported at the meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Baltimore, April 1987. We are indebted to Peter Ornstein and his colleagues for executing the hierarchical clustering programs on the data reported in Experiment 1. We thank Caryn Greenstein and Felice Ohrlich for assistance in data collection and analysis and Laura Nelson for drawing the pictures for Experiment 3. We are grateful to the students and teachers who participated for their generous contributions to the research.

Reprint requests may be addressed to: Joan Lucariello, New School for Social Research, Graduate Faculty-Psychology, 65 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10003.


Taxonomic knowledge may be distinguished into several forms: horizontal, representing links between items at the same level of a taxonomic hierarchy (e.g., dog-cow), and vertical, representing links between items at different hierarchical levels (e.g., dog-animal). Horizontal relations include 3 category types: slot-filler (based on constrained function, i.e., shared function within an event), conventional subcategory (based on constrained, but not event-based, function and/or on arbitrary cultural groupings), and conventional superordinate (based on unconstrained function). 3 experiments–category production, word association, and forced-picture-choice–explored taxonomic and thematic/ schematic knowledge in 4- and 7-year-old children and adults. Results showed preschooler taxonomic knowledge to be restricted to slot-filler categories. Conventional horizontal relations and vertical taxonomic knowledge emerged with age. Slot-fillers played a role in these developments of taxonomic knowledge. Also developing was' task/context sensitive responding, with 7-, but not 4-year-olds, relying on distinct forms of knowledge across tasks.