From Perceptual Categories to Concepts: What Develops?


should be sent to Vladimir M. Sloutsky, Cognitive Development Laboratory, Center for Cognitive Science, The Ohio State University, 208C Ohio Stadium East, 1961 Tuttle Park Place, Columbus, OH 43210. E-mail:


People are remarkably smart: They use language, possess complex motor skills, make nontrivial inferences, develop and use scientific theories, make laws, and adapt to complex dynamic environments. Much of this knowledge requires concepts and this study focuses on how people acquire concepts. It is argued that conceptual development progresses from simple perceptual grouping to highly abstract scientific concepts. This proposal of conceptual development has four parts. First, it is argued that categories in the world have different structure. Second, there might be different learning systems (subserved by different brain mechanisms) that evolved to learn categories of differing structures. Third, these systems exhibit differential maturational course, which affects how categories of different structures are learned in the course of development. And finally, an interaction of these components may result in the developmental transition from perceptual groupings to more abstract concepts. This study reviews a large body of empirical evidence supporting this proposal.