Creating and Applying Prototypes
Learning to classify new knowledge is learned from birth with two main prototypical models of learning: verbal and visual. Both are relatively easy and are used from a very early age. Technically the prototype is an abstract concept that ranges over several categories. So when someone sees a television or computer screen the image gets categorized as a screen in its most general concept. However, if the person is talking to another about an IBM computer screen the verbal cue allows for the recognition of the generalized screen (Kowalski & Westen, 2005; Minda, & Smith, 2001; Smith, & Minda, 1998; Winkielman, Halberstadt, Fazendeiro, & Catty, 2006).
The main difficulties arising from prototypical categorization are that all memories are generalized and every cue whether verbal or visual can be defined by several categories. This type of categorization is fine as a young child but the research shows that as children grow and their minds develop then the exemplar model of mutually exclusive previous experience takes over as the primary learning model (Kowalski & Westen, 2005; Minda, & Smith, 2001; Smith, & Minda, 1998).
A positive aspect of prototypical categorization is the ability to generalize and incorporate more information into the brain. This would be a perfect example of why a child tends to unconsciously use the prototypical method, because the child has more to learn. As the child grows the need to learn becomes more detail and thus the child moves from prototypical to exemplar methods of learning (Kowalski & Westen, 2005; Minda, & Smith, 2001; Smith, & Minda, 1998).
A negative aspect of prototypical categorization is the same as the positive. Prototypical categorization tends to over generalize and oversimplify the experience and does not encourage the small details be retained. This could account for the fact that most people as they grow into adulthood tend to move from prototypical to exemplar and then logical methods of learning (Kowalski & Westen, 2005; Minda, & Smith, 2001; Smith, & Minda, 1998).
The best example to show how prototype learning works is going to the paint store with your friend. Tell them to pick out blue and you pick out blue as well. The chances are the blues will be different. You may both agree that you have a blue, but the initial concept is the color that was initially chosen. This is just a simple example of how people miscommunicate and incorrectly remember things due to prototypical method of learning and categorizing of information.
Kowalski, R. and Westen, D. (2005). Thought and Language. In Psychology. 4th Ed. (pp. 191-227). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Minda, J., & Smith, J. (2001, May). Prototypes in Category Learning: The Effects of Category Size, Category Structure, and Stimulus… Journal of Experimental Psychology / Learning, Memory & Cognition, 27(3), 775. Retrieved January 12, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.
Smith, J., & Minda, J. (1998, November). Prototypes in the mist: The early epochs of category learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology / Learning, Memory & Cognition, 24(6), 1411. Retrieved January 12, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.
Winkielman, P., Halberstadt, J., Fazendeiro, T., & Catty, S. (2006, September). Prototypes Are Attractive Because They Are Easy on the Mind. Psychological Science, 17(9), 799-806. Retrieved January 12, 2009, doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01785.x