Object categories and expertise: Is the basic level in the eye of the beholder?
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Cognitive Psychology 23 (3): 457--482 (July 1991)

Classic research on conceptual hierarchies has shown that the interaction between the human perceiver and objects in the environment specifies one level of abstraction for categorizing objects, called the basic level, which plays a primary role in cognition. The question of whether the special psychological status of the basic level can be modified by experience was addressed in three experiments comparing the performance of subjects in expert and novice domains. The main findings were that in the domain of expertise (a) subordinate-level categories were as differentiated as the basic-level categories, (b) subordinate-level names were used as frequently as basic-level names for identifying objects, and (c) subordinate-level categorizations were as fast as basic-level categorizations. Taken together, these results demonstrate that individual differences in domain-specific knowledge affect the extent that the basic level is central to categorization.
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