Document Type

Contribution to Book

Publication Date

January 2003

Journal or Book Title

Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society



Place of Publication



Category coherence refers to the extent to which a category is perceived to be a meaningful whole (Patalano & Ross, 2002; Ross & Patalano, 2002). We tested the hypothesis that category coherence influences the extent to which a category is used in the generation of category-based causal explanations of social behavior and preferences. In Experiments 1a and b, participants were told that members of a category shared a particular preference (e.g., sky divers prefer fiction to non-fiction), and were asked to generate the most plausible explanation for the preference. Explanations generated for high coherence categories were more plausible than those generated for low coherence categories. In Experiment 2, high and low coherence categories were contrasted in the context of a single problem. Participants were told that members of two categories (e.g., people who are both sky divers and pianists) shared a particular preference and were again asked for the most plausible explanation of the preference. References to the high coherence category occurred more often than those to the low coherence category. It is concluded that coherence influences both category selection and quality of category-based causal explanation. Implications of this work and future research directions are discussed.