Individual differences in semantic categorization are commonplace. Individuals apply a word like sports to different instances because they employ different conditions for category membership (vagueness in criteria) or because they differ regarding the extent to which they feel the term can be applied given fixed conditions (vagueness in degree). Three individuals may, for instance, disagree as to whether chess and hiking are sports, because one believes sports are competitive in nature, while the other two require sports to be effortful (vagueness in criteria). On the basis of whether they consider hiking sufficiently effortful or not, the latter two individuals might still disagree as to whether to call it a sport (vagueness in degree). We investigated whether there are systematic age-related differences in semantic categorization by analyzing the categorization decisions of 1,868 adults for eight semantic categories with a formal model that allows the two sources of categorization differences to be disentangled. We found that young and older adults assess instances differently with respect to the categorization conditions and that older adults employ a lower threshold for category membership than young adults do. We recommend that these criteria and degree differences are taken into account in studies of age-related semantic processing.

Ageing, Categorisation, Mathematical modelling, Semantics,
Journal of Cognition
Department of Psychology

Verheyen, S, Droeshout, E, & Storms, G. (2019). Age-related degree and criteria differences in semantic categorization. Journal of Cognition, 2(1). doi:10.5334/joc.74