Children's category-based inferences affect classification

Brian H. Ross, Susan A. Gelman, Karl S. Rosengren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children learn many new categories and make inferences about these categories. Much work has examined how children make inferences on the basis of category knowledge. However, inferences may also affect what is learned about a category. Four experiments examine whether category-based inferences during category learning influence category knowledge and thereby affect later classifications for 5- to 7-year-olds. The children learned to classify pictures of new types of creatures on the basis of a salient feature (colour) and then answered a question that required them to make an inference on the basis of other features. At test, children classified pictures that included only some features (without colour). Experiment I showed that the features relevant to the inference during learning led to better classification than did features irrelevant to the inference. Experiment 2 replicated this finding even when the relevant features were physically close to the irrelevant features. Experiments 3 and 4 found this effect even when the classification was learned prior to the inference task and even when no mention was made of the categories during inference learning. Taken together, these results show that making inferences during category learning can influence category knowledge and suggest a need to integrate the work on category learning and category-based inferences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience

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