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Words, kinds, and causal powers: A theory perspective on early naming and categorization

(from the chapter) Discusses the theory theory which is the idea that much of adult knowledge consists of "intuitive", "naive" or "folk" theories. It is argued that "kinds" can be usefully understood as groups of objects with common current and future causal powers. This stems from our general conception of intuitive theories as "causal maps": abstract representations of the causal structure of the world. In a series of empirical studies, the authors have shown that children do categorize and name objects on the basis of their causal powers, from at least 30 mo of age. Even younger children, around 18 mo old, already show the ability to sort objects into multiple, exhaustive categories and to sort entirely perceptually dissimilar objects together when they are given a common name. There abilities do not appear to be present in younger infants. They also seem to be highly correlated with the acquisition of names and particularly with a naming spurt. There also seem to be important changes in children's kind understanding. It is suggested that the youngest infants may not relate perceptual similarities among objects and causal powers at all. At a later stage, from about 1 yr until 3 or 4, children do seem to predict strong correlations between perceptual similarities and causal powers. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2005 APA, all rights reserved)