Measuring the influence of similarity on category-specific effects

Laura R. Shapiro, Koen Lamberts, Andrew C. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is evidence for both advantages and disadvantages in normal recognition of living over nonliving things. This paradox has been attributed to high levels of perceptual similarity within living categories having a different effect on performance in different contexts. However, since living things are intrinsically more similar to each other, previous studies could not determine whether the various category effects were due to perceptual similarity, or to other characteristics of living things. We used novel animal and vehicle stimuli that were matched for similarity to measure the influence of perceptual similarity in different contexts. We found that displaying highly similar objects in blocked sets reduced their perceived similarity, eliminating the detrimental effect on naming performance. Experiment 1 demonstrated a disadvantage for highly similar objects in name learning and name verification using mixed groups of similar and dissimilar animals and vehicles. Experiment 2 demonstrated no disadvantage for the same highly similar objects when they were blocked, e.g., similar animals presented alone. Thus, perceptual similarity, rather than other characteristics particular to living things, is affected by context, and could create apparent category effects under certain testing conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-366
Number of pages21
JournalEuropean Journal of Cognitive Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date7 Feb 2008
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2008

Bibliographical note

This is an electronic version of an article published in Shapiro, L. R., Lamberts, K., & Olson, A. C. (2008). Measuring the influence of similarity on category-specific effects. European journal of cognitive psychology, 20(2), 346-366. European journal of cognitive psychology is available online at


  • normal recognition
  • perceptual similarity
  • living categories
  • vehicle stimuli


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