Living Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

pp 1-3

Date: Latest Version

Abstract Concept Formation


Abstraction; Conceptual representation


Concepts are formed when an organism is capable of representing a mental construct that subsumes multiple related exemplars. Exemplars may be related by virtue of shared physical features, functions, traits, capacities, relationships, or other unifying characteristics. Abstract concepts are representations of conceptual categories containing exemplars that are not strictly tied to observable features of the stimuli and that typically subsume several more concrete categories. Forming such concepts requires inference or generalization from observed features to the construct that ties exemplars together.


The idea of abstraction is somewhat nebulous, and evidence for such in nonhuman minds is somewhat elusive. It has been suggested that most animals are not capable of abstraction by both historic (Locke 1690/1975) and more recent figures (Mackintosh 2000), and even those that believe some animals capable of some degree of a ...

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