ERIC Number: EJ1068574
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015-Jul
Abstractor: As Provided
Memory Errors Reveal a Bias to Spontaneously Generalize to Categories
Sutherland, Shelbie L.; Cimpian, Andrei; Leslie, Sarah-Jane; Gelman, Susan A.
Cognitive Science, v39 n5 p1021-1046 Jul 2015
Much evidence suggests that, from a young age, humans are able to generalize information learned about a subset of a category to the category itself. Here, we propose that--beyond simply being able to perform such generalizations--people are "biased" to generalize to categories, such that they routinely make spontaneous, implicit category generalizations from information that licenses such generalizations. To demonstrate the existence of this bias, we asked participants to perform a task in which category generalizations would distract from the main goal of the task, leading to a characteristic pattern of errors. Specifically, participants were asked to memorize two types of novel facts: quantified facts about sets of kind members (e.g., facts about "all" or "many stups") and generic facts about entire kinds (e.g., facts about "zorbs" as a kind). Moreover, half of the facts concerned properties that are typically generalizable to an animal kind (e.g., eating fruits and vegetables), and half concerned properties that are typically more idiosyncratic (e.g., getting mud in their hair). We predicted that--because of the hypothesized bias--participants would spontaneously generalize the quantified facts to the corresponding kinds, and would do so more frequently for the facts about generalizable (rather than idiosyncratic) properties. In turn, these generalizations would lead to a higher rate of quantified-to-generic "memory errors" for the generalizable properties. The results of four experiments (N = 449) supported this prediction. Moreover, the same generalizable-versus-idiosyncratic difference in memory errors occurred even under cognitive load, which suggests that the hypothesized bias operates unnoticed in the background, requiring few cognitive resources. In sum, this evidence suggests the presence of a powerful bias to draw generalizations about kinds.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF); Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) (NIH)
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: BCS-1226942; HD-36043