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An ERP analysis of recognition and categorization decisions in a prototype-distortion task

Tunney, Richard J.; Fernie, Gordon; Astle, Duncan E.


Richard J. Tunney

Gordon Fernie

Duncan E. Astle



Theories of categorization make different predictions about the underlying processes used to represent categories. Episodic theories suggest that categories are represented in memory by storing previously encountered exemplars in memory. Prototype theories suggest that categories are represented in the form of a prototype independently of memory. A number of studies that show dissociations between categorization and recognition are often cited as evidence for the prototype account. These dissociations have compared recognition judgements made to one set of items to categorization judgements to a different set of items making a clear interpretation difficult. Instead of using different stimuli for different tests this experiment compares the processes by which participants make decisions about category membership in a prototype-distortion task and with recognition decisions about the same set of stimuli by examining the Event Related Potentials (ERPs) associated with them.

Sixty-three participants were asked to make categorization or recognition decisions about stimuli that either formed an artificial category or that were category non-members. We examined the ERP components associated with both kinds of decision for pre-exposed and control participants.

In contrast to studies using different items we observed no behavioural differences between the two kinds of decision; participants were equally able to distinguish category members from non-members, regardless of whether they were performing a recognition or categorisation judgement. Interestingly, this did not interact with prior-exposure. However, the ERP data demonstrated that the early visual evoked response that discriminated category members from non-members was modulated by which judgement participants performed and whether they had been pre-exposed to category members. We conclude from this that any differences between categorization and recognition reflect differences in the information that participants focus on in the stimuli to make the judgements at test, rather than any differences in encoding or process.


Tunney, R. J., Fernie, G., & Astle, D. E. (2010). An ERP analysis of recognition and categorization decisions in a prototype-distortion task. PLoS ONE, 5(4), Article e10116.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Apr 12, 2010
Deposit Date Mar 25, 2014
Publicly Available Date Mar 25, 2014
Journal PLoS ONE
Electronic ISSN 1932-6203
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 5
Issue 4
Article Number e10116
Public URL
Publisher URL


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