Making use of social prototypes: From fuzzy concepts to firm decisions

Paula M. Niedenthal, Nancy Cantor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Evidence suggestive of the 'fuzzy' structure of many natural language (as opposed to scientific) categories is reviewed. Examples are drawn from categorization schemes for objects, such as cars, fruit or tables, as well as for people, such as extroverts, hippies and 'fraternity types'. It is argued that despite the fuzziness of natural categories, there is orderliness and utility to these concepts, as well. Specifically, natural categories are organized around prototypes, representative category members, which serve as reference points for the category. The identification of category members involves a prototype-matching process. Prototypes about 'kinds of people' can be very useful in decisions about people with whom to affiliate and places in which to live. This process was illustrated by reference to a case analysis of students' preferences for university housing. It was concluded that natural categories may well be fuzzy, but they are far from being dispensible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-27
Number of pages23
JournalFuzzy Sets and Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1984
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Logic
  • Artificial Intelligence


  • Distinctiveness
  • Interpersonal goals
  • Natural categories
  • Prototypes
  • Self-monitor
  • Self-to-prototype matching heuristic


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