What Does It Look Like and What Can It Do? Category Structure Influences How Infants Categorize


  • A portion of these data were presented at the biennial meetings of the Cognitive Development Society, October 2003, and at the International Conference on Infant Studies, May 2004. This research and preparation of this manuscript was made possible by National Institutes of Health Grants R01 HD36060 and R03 MH64020, and a University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean's Scholar Award. We would like to thank Ann Ellis and Les Cohen for their help with stimulus creation, and Kristine Kovack, Shannon Ross-Sheehy, Shaena Stille, and the undergraduates at the University of Iowa Infant Cognition lab for their help with the data-collection and coding phases of this project.

concerning this article should be addressed to Lisa M. Oakes, Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242. Electronic mail may be sent to lisa-oakes@uiowa.edu.


Despite a large body of research demonstrating the kinds of categories to which infants respond, few studies have directly assessed how infants' categorization unfolds over time. Four experiments used a visual familiarization task to evaluate 10-month-old infants' (N=98) learning of exemplars characterized by commonalities in appearance or function. When learning exemplars with a common function, infants initially responded to the common feature, apparently forming a category, and only learned the individual features with more extensive familiarization. When learning exemplars with a common appearance, infants initially learned the individual features and apparently only formed a category with more extensive familiarization. The results are discussed in terms of models of category learning.