Feature diagnosticity as a tool for investigating positively and negatively defined concepts

Goldstone, R. L. (1991). Feature diagnosticity as a tool for investigating positively and negatively defined concepts. Proceedings of the Thirteenth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 263-268). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Two methods of representing concepts are distinguished and empirically investigated. Negatively defined concepts are defined in terms of other concepts at the same level of abstraction. Positively defined concepts do not make recourse to other concepts at the same level of abstraction for their definition. In two experiments, subjects are biased to represent concepts underlying visual patterns in a positive manner by instructing subjects to form an image of the learned concepts and by initially training subjects on minimally distorted concept instances. Positively defined concepts are characterized by a large use of non-diagnostic features in concept representations, relative to negatively defined concepts. The distinction between positively and negatively defined concepts can account for the dual nature of natural concepts – as directly accessed during the recognition of items, and is intricately interconnected to other concepts.