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A Taxonomic Analysis of Abstraction

, : A Taxonomic Analysis of Abstraction. Perspectives on Psychological Science 11(6): 817-837

NlmCategory="UNASSIGNED">An important characteristic of knowledge is that it exists at multiple levels of abstraction. This article illustrates how different levels of abstraction influence perception, comprehension, categorization, memory, and thought. Theories exist for how abstraction influences each of these cognitive processes, but there are few unifying principles for discussing these theories within a common conceptual framework. My proposed taxonomy examines three senses of abstraction: (a) an abstract entity is a concept that has no material referent, (b) abstraction focuses on only some attributes of multicomponent stimuli, and (c) an abstract idea applies to many particular instances of a category. The first refers to instances, the second to attributes of instances, and the third to classes of instances. Concrete mental representations consist of modal images for instances, equivalent attributes, and exemplars or episodes for categories. Abstract mental representations consist of amodal propositions for instances, distinctive attributes, and rules or prototypes or schema for categories. I first apply the taxonomy to words, pictures, and problems. The next section shows how categorization strategies combine with abstraction at the attribute, instance, and category levels. The subsequent section applies the taxonomy to hierarchical (subordinate, basic, superordinate) levels. A concluding section proposes directions for further development.


PMID: 27899726

DOI: 10.1177/1745691616646304

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