Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Development of Induction Based on Noun and Feature Labels

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Development of Induction Based on Noun and Feature Labels

Article excerpt

Published online: 7 January 2014

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract In two experiments, we examined the development of sensitivity to the inductive potential of shared novel noun and feature labels. Children (4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, and 8- year-olds) and adults were presented with a complete base stimulus and an incomplete target. The task was to infer whether the missing target feature matched the corresponding base feature. The base and target were given matching or mismatching novel labels, which were either count nouns or adjectives describing object features. Use of matching labels for induction increased with age. Nevertheless, all age groups were more likely to make inferences based on novel noun labels rather than feature labels. These results support the view that even preschool children grasp the conceptual significance of count nouns for induction.

Keywords Induction . Categorization

Inferring object properties is one of the key uses of categories. For example, we can infer whether a dog is likely to behave aggressively by assigning it to a category denoted by a noun label (e.g., Labrador or Pit-bull) and retrieving the typical features of that category. Alternatively, we could make an inference based on the dog's observable features (e.g., dogs who bare their teeth are likely to be aggressive).

Although adults make both kinds of inferences, they accord a special significance to category labels (see Hayes, Heit, & Swendsen, 2010, for a review). They see labels as category markers, with objects that share a label being assumed to share observable and unobservable features. When appearance con- flicts with category membership, adults use the category label to guide inference (Yamauchi & Markman, 2000).

The question of whether young children accord the same conceptual significance to labels in induction remains highly contentious. According to one view, an understanding that count nouns mark out inductively potent categories is ac- quired relatively early (Gelman & Davidson, 2013;Hayes, McKinnon, & Sweller, 2008). Supporting this labels-as- category-markers account, preschoolers (e.g., Gelman & Davidson, 2013; Gelman & Markman, 1987) and 16-month- olds (Keates & Graham, 2008; Welder & Graham, 2001)show a preference for label-based inference when the labels conflict with perceptual appearances.

An opposing view is that young children treat labels as salient perceptual features (Deng & Sloutsky, 2013; Sloutsky &Fisher,2013). According to this labels-as-features account, children's inductive inferences are driven primarily by the overall similarity of base and target items. Children often make inferences based on labels because matching auditory features are weighted heavily in children'ssimilaritycompu- tations (Sloutsky & Fisher, 2013; Sloutsky, Lo, & Fisher, 2001). An understanding of the conceptual significance of labels is thought to only develop relatively late, around 7 years of age (Fisher & Sloutsky, 2005).

One way to test these accounts would be to compare children's inductive inferences based on different types of labels. According to the labels-as-features view, any matching auditory signal applied to known and novel objects should increase their perceived similarity, and hence should promote feature induction.

The labels-as-category-markers view, however, suggests that the type of label is important. Because category member- ship is conventionally denoted by count nouns, these should have greater inductive potential than do other kinds of shared labels (Xu & Tenenbaum, 2007; Yamauchi & Markman, 2000). Previous work has shown that young children are more likely to categorize objects together when they have matching noun labels than when they are associated with matching tones (Fulkerson & Waxman, 2007) or matching adjectives (Booth & Waxman, 2009). There is also some evidence that young children are sensitive to the inductive potential of different types of labels. …

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