Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Linguistics

First Advisor

Bhuvana Narasimhan

Second Advisor

Eliana Colunga

Third Advisor

Rebecca Scarborough

Abstract

Recent research under the paradigm of the label feedback hypothesis has proposed a causal role for verbal labels in the online learning and processing of categories. Those categories learned along with names are learned faster, and are more robust after learning. The present study seeks to extend this research by considering the relationship between verbal label cues for categories and flexible categorization. Flexibility will be defined as the ability to dynamically activate and modify the cognitive processes of categorization in response to changing task demands. Flexibility is a key trait of human cognitive processes, and flexible categorization is important in creativity, problem solving, and other tasks. In the present study participants must learn to categorize between ‘friendly’ and ‘unfriendly’ aliens either with or without names during training. They then must learn to re-categorize the same stimuli set in one of three different transfer conditions. If labels do indeed act as material anchors upon which to hang categories, and in doing so play a role in maximizing selective attention, labels should also reduce flexibility. While the present study does show a role for selective attention in relearning, no effect of label was found for either category learning or relearning, with one exception; labels facilitated flexibility when a change in selective attention was not involved in the transfer. The inability to replicate previous findings of the role for verbal labels in category learning using similar methodologies raises interesting theoretical issues, questioning the extent to which this relationship applies to linguistic categorization.

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