Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Featuring Familiarity: How a Familiar Feature Instantiation Influences Categorization

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Featuring Familiarity: How a Familiar Feature Instantiation Influences Categorization

Article excerpt

We demonstrate that a familiar looking feature can influence categorization through 2 different routes, depending on whether a person is reliant on abstract feature representations or on concrete feature representations. In 2 experiments, trained participants categorized new category members in a 3-step procedure: Participants made an initial categorization, described the rule-consistent features indicated by the experimenter, and then recategorized the item. Critical was what happened on the second categorization after participants initially categorized an item based on a familiar, but misleading, feature. Participants who were reliant on abstract features most commonly reversed themselves after the rule-consistent features were pointed out, suggesting that the familiar feature had biased attention. Participants who were reliant on concrete feature representations, however, most commonly persisted with the initial response as if the familiar feature were more important than its rivals-the familiar feature biased decision making.

Keywords: categorization, concept formation, feature processing, instantiated features, decision-making

People often rely on familiar looking features when making a categorization decision, (Brooks & Hannah, 2006). This happens even when one familiar1 feature is surrounded by more numerous rival features, and the information conveyed by those rival features is understood. In this article, we seek to explain how the familiarity of a feature's instantiation can influence categorization decisions.

There are at least two routes by which the familiarity of a feature's instantiation could influence categorization: an attention route and a decision-making route. Perhaps a familiar looking feature diverts attention from less familiar features during feature search. Alternatively, perhaps people weight a feature by its similarity to known feature instantiations when making a categorization decision.

Chun and colleagues (reviewed in Chun, 2000) have shown that search for objects in scenes is influenced by the familiarity of distractor identity or of surround configuration. The findings regarding novel popout in visual search (Johnston, Hawley, & Farnham, 1993; Johnston, Hawley, Plewe, Elliot, & Dewitt, 1990) also support the notion that visual search is influenced by stimulus familiarity. However, a feature-familiarity weighting heuristic would be consistent with arguments that relying on particular instantiations is optimal under ordinary conditions of categorization (Brooks & Hannah, 2006; Hannah & Brooks, 2006).

Critically for this feature-weighting argument, the instantiation of features is correlated with categorical identity for many natural categories. Cats have paws, dogs have paws, and even monkeys have paws, but paws as a feature is instantiated uniquely within each category, and within each category the instantiations of paws is similar across exemplars. The paws of one cat, therefore, look very similar to the paws of any other cat but very different from the paws of a monkey or even a dog. Surface structure is not mere accidental variation but is systematically related to deep structure: Instantiation is information.

As illustrated in Figure 1, a feature representation consisting of a particular instantiation (bottom left) is necessarily more selective than a more generic feature representation (denoted paw, bottom right). The narrower selectivity of particular instantiations - or, instantiated features - relative to more general feature representations provides advantages in categorization for instantiated features. Knowing what cats' paws look like can be enough to help one recognize a cat from just a flash of paw darting out from under a bed. For many natural categories, instantiated features allow rapid categorization even under impoverished viewing conditions.

Given that there is a nontrivial relationship between feature instantiation and category identity, anomalies in the appearances of features are also nontrivial. …

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