Annika Schuster (University of Düsseldorf): Typicality and Probability

Datum / Uhrzeit:
18.06.19   /  18:30 - 20:00

Institut für Theoretische Philosophie

24.53.01 Raum 81



Typicality – the property of subcategories to be good or bad examples for a category – is an important variable in cognition. It has been repeatedly shown that typicality judgements are intersubjectively stable and that they are correlated with many other cognitive variables like reaction times, categorization probability, and estimated inductive inference strength. This is why it is commonly assumed that important parts of conceptual structure are determined by typicality and that it is thus indicative of the way in which information is stored in our brain. Typicality is however a complex cognitive variable as it is not clear which properties of subcategories make them good or bad examples of a category. The prototype theory of concepts usually assumes a family re-semblance structure of categories, i.e. that subcategories share properties, none of which are singly necessary and jointly sufficient to define the category. The more category-relevant properties a subcategory has, the more typical it is judged to be. 

How to determine which properties are relevant and how this relevance can be quantified is an ongoing debate (e.g. Rosch, Mervis, 1975, Hampton, 1979, Smith et al., 1988, Estes, 1994). In my talk I will discuss former pro-posals and, building up on Schurz’ (2012) evolution-theoretic account of prototypes, present a way of breaking typicality down into two kinds of subjective conditional probability judgements for properties shared between a category and its subcategories. A suitable representation format for this purpose are stochastic frames as they enable a fine-grained analysis of concepts by specifying their attribute-value structure. 


Estes, William K. (1994): Classification and cognition. New York, Oxford: Oxord University Press; Clarendon Press (Oxford psychology series, no. 22).

Hampton, James A. (1979): “Polymorphous concepts in semantic memory”, in: Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 18 (4), pp. 441–461.

Rosch, Eleanor; Mervis, Carolyn B. (1975): “Family Resemblances: Studies in the Internal Structure of Catego-ries”, Cognitive Psychology (7), pp. 573–605.

Schurz, Gerhard (2012): “Prototypes and their Composition from an Evolutionary Point of View”, in: Wolfram Hinzen, Edouard Machery, Markus Werning (Hg.): The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality: Oxford University Press, pp. 530–554.

Smith, Edward E.; Osherson, Daniel N.; Rips, Lance J.; Keane, Margaret (1988): Combining Prototypes: A Selec-tive Modification Model. In: Cognitive science (12), S. 485–527.



Annika Schuster (M.A.) is research fellow at the Chair of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Düsseldorf. She is writing her PhD thesis in Project D01 “Frame representations of prototype concepts and prototype-based reasoning” within the CRC991 “The structure of representations in language, cognition and science”.


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