Psychological Science, vol. 18, issue 12 (2007) pp. 1077-1083
In addition to having communicative functions, verbal labels may play a role in shaping concepts. Two experiments assessed whether the presence of labels affected category formation. Subjects learned to categorize "aliens" as those to be approached or those to be avoided. After accuracy feedback on each response was provided, a nonsense label was either presented or not. Providing nonsense category labels facilitated category learning even though the labels were redundant and all subjects had equivalent experience with supervised categorization of the stimuli. A follow-up study investigated differences between learning verbal and nonverbal associations and showed that learning a nonverbal association did not facilitate categorization. The findings show that labels make category distinctions more concrete and bear directly on the language-and-thought debate.
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