Abstract Concept Formation
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...
- Locke, J. (1975). An essay concerning human understanding. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
- Mackintosh, N. J. (2000). Abstraction and discrimination. In C. Heyes & L. Huber (Eds.), The evolution of cognition (pp. 123–141). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Vonk, J. (2002). Can Orangutans and Gorillas acquire concepts for social relationships? International Journal of Comparative Cognition, 15, 257–277.Google Scholar
- Vonk, J., & Povinelli, D. J. (2006). Similarity and difference in the conceptual systems of primates: The unobservability hypothesis. In E. Wasserman & T. Zentall (Eds.), Oxford handbook of comparative cognition: Experimental explorations of animal intelligence (pp. 363–387). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar