, Volume 37, Issue 6, pp 730-743

Induction with uncertain categories: When do people consider the category alternatives?


These three experiments examined how people make property inferences about exemplars whose category membership is uncertain. Participants were shown two categories and a novel exemplar with a feature that indicated that the exemplar was more likely to belong to one category (target) than to the other (nontarget). Participants then made categorization decisions and property inferences about the novel exemplar. In some conditions, property inferences could be made only by considering both target and nontarget categories. In other conditions, predictions could be based on both categories or on the target category alone. Consistent with previous studies (e.g., Murphy & Ross, 1994, 2005), we found that many people made predictions based only on consideration of the target category. However, the prevalence of such single-category reasoning was greatly reduced by highlighting the costs of neglecting nontarget alternatives and by asking for inferences before categorization decisions. The results suggest that previous work may have exaggerated the prevalence of single-category reasoning and that people may be more flexible in their use of multiple categories in property inference than has been previously recognized.