Learning new categories for natural objects
People learn new categories on a daily basis, and the study of category learning is a major topic of research in cognitive science. However, most prior work has focused on how people learn categories over abstracted, artificial (and usually perceptual) representations. Little is known about how new categories are learnt for natural objects, for which people have extensive prior knowledge. We examine this question in three pre-registered studies involving the learning of new categories for everyday foods. Our models use word vectors derived from large-scale natural language data to proxy mental representations for foods, and apply classical models of categorization over these vectorized representations to predict participant categorization judgments. This approach achieves high predictive accuracy rates, and can be used to identify the real-world settings in which category learning is impaired. In doing so, it shows how existing theories of categorization can be used to predict and improve everyday cognition and behavior.