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To examine key parameters of the initial conditions in early category learning, two studies compared 5-month-olds’ object categorization between tasks involving previously unseen novel objects, and between measures within tasks. Infants in Experiment 1 participated in a visual familiarization–novelty preference (VFNP) task with two-dimensional (2D) stimulus images. Infants provided no evidence of categorization by either their looking or their examining even though infants in previous research systematically categorized the same objects by examining when they could handle them directly. Infants in Experiment 2 participated in a VFNP task with 3D stimulus objects that allowed visual examination of objects’ 3D instantiation while denying manual contact with the objects. Under these conditions, infants demonstrated categorization by examining but not by looking. Focused examination appears to be a key component of young infants’ ability to form category representations of novel objects, and 3D instantiation appears to better engage such examining.