We thank Helene Chaikin, Deborah Pease, and Maggie Kean for their invaluable assistance in all phases of the research reported here. We are also greatly indebted to the following people for their many, many, critical comments, which have helped foster and shape this research: Ken Albert, Susan Carey, Allan Collins, Dedre Gentner, David Israel, Michael Lipton, Mary Potter, and Lance Rips. The research was supported by U.S. Public Health Service Grant MH37208 and by the National Institute of Education under Contract No. US-HEW-C-400-82-0030.
Conceptual Combination with Prototype Concepts*
Article first published online: 11 FEB 2010
© 1984 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 8, Issue 4, pages 337–361, October 1984
How to Cite
Smith, E. E. and Osherson, D. N. (1984), Conceptual Combination with Prototype Concepts. Cognitive Science, 8: 337–361. doi: 10.1207/s15516709cog0804_2
- Issue published online: 11 FEB 2010
- Article first published online: 11 FEB 2010
This paper deals with how people combine simple, prototype concepts into complex ones; e.g., how people combine the prototypes for brown and apple so they can determine the typicality of objects in the conjunction brown apple. We first consider a proposal from fuzzy-set theory (Zadeh, 1965), namely, that the typicality of an object in a conjunction is equal to the minimum of that object's typicality in the constituents (e.g., an object's typicality as a brown apple cannot exceed its typicality as a brown or as an apple). We evaluated this “min rule” against the typicality ratings of naive subjects in two experiments. For each of numerous pictured objects, one group of subjects rated its typicality with respect to an adjective concept, a second group rated its typicality vis-à-vis a noun concept, and a third group rated its typicality with respect to the adjective-noun conjunction. In both studies, most objects were rated as more typical of the conjunction than of the noun. These findings violate not only the min rule but also other simple rules for relating typicality in a conjunction to typicalities in the constituents. As an alternative to seeking such rules, we argue for an approach to conceptual combination that starts with the prototype representations themselves. We illustrate one version of this approach in some detail, and show how it accounts for the major findings of the present experiments.