Comparing Categorization Models

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Four experiments are presented that competitively test rule- and exemplar-based models of human categorization behavior. Participants classified stimuli that varied on a unidimensional axis into 2 categories. The stimuli did not consistently belong to a category; instead, they were probabilistically assigned. By manipulating these assignment probabilities, it was possible to produce stimuli for which exemplar- and rule-based explanations made qualitatively different predictions. F. G. Ashby and J. T. Townsend's (1986) rule-based general recognition theory provided a better account of the data than R. M. Nosofsky's (1986) exemplar-based generalized context model in conditions in which the to-be-classified stimuli were relatively confusable. However, generalized context model provided a better account when the stimuli were relatively few and distinct. These findings are consistent with multiple process accounts of categorization and demonstrate that stimulus confusion is a determining factor as to which process mediates categorization.

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