Recognising a zebra from its stripes and the stripes from “zebra”: the role of verbal labels in selecting category relevant information

Lynn K. Perry, Gary Lupyan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Distinguishing members from non-members of some categories can be accomplished by identifying one or several diagnostic features (e.g. zebra-stripes are diagnostic of zebras). Other categories lack diagnostic features (e.g. dogs). Consequently, distinguishing members from non-members requires attending to many correlated dimensions. Interestingly, children and non-human animals are less adept at using diagnostic features compared to adults–possibly due to adults’ more developed verbal labelling abilities. We examined whether recognition of categories with diagnostic features (“sparse” categories) is (1) linked to better abilities to selectively attend to relevant information and (2) aided by labelling. In Experiments 1–2, we quantify and validate a measure of category sparsity. Experiment 3 demonstrates that sparse categorisation, assessed by an implicit naming task, correlates with performance in the flanker task, a measure of selective attention. Experiment 4 demonstrates up-regulating activity over Wernicke's area via transcranial direct current stimulation–hypothesised to enhance labelling–selectively improves sparse categorisation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)925-943
Number of pages19
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 14 2017


  • Categorisation
  • labelling
  • object recognition
  • selective representation
  • transcranial direct current stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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