Research Library


The ability to take information learned about one object (e.g., a cat) and extend it to other objects (e.g., a tiger, a lion) makes human learning efficient and powerful. How are these inductive generalizations performed? Fisher, Godwin, and Matlen (2015) propose a developmental mechanism that operates exclusively over the perceptual and semantic features of the objects involved (e.g., furry, carnivorous); this proposed mechanism does not use information concerning these objects’ category membership. In the present commentary, we argue that Fisher and colleagues’ experiments cannot differentiate between their feature-based mechanism and its category-based competitors. More broadly, we suggest that any proposal that doesn’t take into account the central role of category representations in children’s mental lives is likely to mischaracterize the development of inductive generalization. The key question is not whether, but how, categories are involved in children’s generalizations.