Research on object concepts has identified one level of abstraction as "basic" in cognition and communication. We investigated whether concepts for routine social events have a basic level by replicating the converging operations used to investigate object concepts. In Experiment I, subjects were presented with event names from a taxonomy and were asked to list the actions comprising the event. Many more actions were listed at the middle than at the highest taxonomic level, without a further increase at the most specific level, paralleling the pattern of superordinate-, basic-, and subordinate-level object concepts. From these action lists, brief stories were composed for each event. In Experiment 2, subjects made pairwise similarity judgments on the stories. The mean similarity of events increased with specificity, as expected. But differentiation of categories (within-category similarity compared to between-category similarity) was highest for super-ordinates, contrary to results with object categories. In Experiment 3, subjects were fastest in recognizing actions as belonging to events named at the basic level. In Experiment 4, subjects predominantly chose basic-level terms to name stories. We conclude that event taxonomies do show basic-level structure, albeit a less sharply defined and less stable structure than in object taxonomies. The benefits and hazards of extending models of object concepts to other entities, such as social events, are discussed.
Morris, Michael, and G. Murphy. "Converging operations on a basic level in event taxonomies." Memory & Cognition 18 (1990): 407-418.
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