Are artworks more like people than artifacts? Individual concepts and their extensions

George E. Newman, Daniel M. Bartels, Rosanna K. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines people's reasoning about identity continuity (i.e., how people decide that a particular object is the same object over time) and its relation to previous research on how people value one-of-a-kind artifacts, such as artwork. We propose that judgments about the continuity of artworks are related to judgments about the continuity of individual persons because art objects are seen as physical extensions of their creators. We report a reanalysis of previous data and the results of two new empirical studies that test this hypothesis. The first study demonstrates that the mere categorization of an object as "art" versus "a tool" changes people's intuitions about the persistence of those objects over time. In a second study, we examine some conditions that may lead artworks to be thought of as different from other artifacts. These observations inform both current understanding of what makes some objects one-of-a-kind as well as broader questions regarding how people intuitively think about the persistence of human agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)647-662
Number of pages16
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Agents
  • Artwork
  • Concepts
  • Continuity
  • Identity
  • Lay theories
  • Persistence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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