Content differences for abstract and concrete concepts

Katja Wiemer-Hastings, Xu Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

181 Scopus citations


Concept properties are an integral part of theories of conceptual representation and processing. To date, little is known about conceptual properties of abstract concepts, such as idea. This experiment systematically compared the content of 18 abstract and 18 concrete concepts, using a feature generation task. Thirty-one participants listed characteristics of the concepts (i.e., item properties) or their relevant context (i.e., context properties). Abstract concepts had significantly fewer intrinsic item properties and more properties expressing subjective experiences than concrete concepts. Situation components generated for abstract and concrete concepts differed in kind, but not in number. Abstract concepts were predominantly related to social aspects of situations. Properties were significantly less specific for abstract than for concrete concepts. Thus, abstractness emerged as a function of several, both qualitative and quantitative, factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)719-736
Number of pages18
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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