Friday, May 27, 2011

Understanding and categorization

Categorization is the process of recognizing, differentiating, and understanding objects. This means that the subject will combine and compare sensorial information with earlier information, already in memory. From this point of view, we can define understanding as an input function as well as an activated knowledge. One should not see this process as passive but more as an active process that builds understanding from input and using its activated knowledge. People understand information when they are capable to give it a more general meaning.

The understanding process needs to be capable of using knowledge at a more general level as well as the incomplete information (which usually needs more processing in order to eliminate confusion). Most of this processing is done at a subconscious level.

Verbal Understanding (discourse comprehension)

We first learn to understand simple words, then words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs, and ultimately we are able to understand a general idea that comes from a whole chapter.

Discourse comprehension is characterized by Van Dijk and Kintsch through the following representations:

1 – microstructure: it contains a literal understanding of the text(a very basic understanding)
2 – macrostructure: contains the text’s essence
3 – super-structure: it’s a rhetoric form or a certain style used in text
4 – situational model: a set of knowledge structures linked to the real meaning of the text

This model was tested in experiments and it can help us predict the length of an understanding process. 
To read more about this you can visit: this link and this link

Without categorization the world is an extremely confusing place. Man needs to group the stimuli in different categories; the elements become members of a class. Some of the benefits that come with categorization are: easy access to relevant information, ability to make predictions, etc.
What does categorization actually mean?

1 – grouping similar elements in the same category
Grouping can be done using physical or functional criteria. Physical criteria aim physical similarities between objects and form a category of similar objects.
If the objects serve a functional purpose during an activity we are using functional similarity as a categorization method. This may include physical subcategories. Regardless of the criteria used for categorization, the tendency should be to maximize the similarity inside the category and minimize the similarity between categories.

2 – coding our experience
Categories ease information access and process as we don’t use each object but a single category linked to many objects.
Any category is linked to other categories. Not all categories are as accessible and we tend to use more those with a more general level to ease the development of other cognitive processes.

Eleanor Rosch shows that there is a preference for a basic category. These basic categories are represented by one word in natural language (for example, flower, table, etc). These words have the highest frequency in spoken language and they were learned the earliest from an ontogenetic point of view. They are the most abstract categories that can be associated with a specific physical form 

3 – generating inferences
Classes of objects are the basis of inference and reason. The generative function of categorization appears in deductive reasoning as well as inductive reasoning. Through inductive and deductive reasoning one is able to predict certain behaviour.

Categories – a mental representation 

Experimental research shows that there is an alternative mental representation of categories, a prototype.
A concept and a prototype are symbolic representations. A concept is a definition that embraces necessary and sufficient characteristics for the existence of an object class. This definition establishes if an item belongs or not to a certain class.
The presence of a prototype indicates the fact that mental representation of categories is not only made through concept.

A prototype is one or more examples from a category that is given whenever somebody asks for an example from that specified category. These examples have the highest prototypical value.
An ideal prototype (but not a real one) shows all the characteristics of the category’s members (an average tendency).

For further information you can visit the websites I mentioned above.
Picture taken from here.

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