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Category production norms for 117 concrete and abstract categories

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We present a database of category production (aka semantic fluency) norms collected in the UK for 117 categories (67 concrete and 50 abstract). Participants verbally named as many category members as possible within 60 seconds, resulting in a large variety of over 2000 generated member concepts. The norms feature common measures of category production (production frequency, mean ordinal rank, first-rank frequency), as well as response times for all first-named category members, and typicality ratings collected from a separate participant sample. We provide two versions of the dataset: a referential version that groups together responses that relate to the same referent (e.g., hippo, hippopotamus) and a full version that retains all original responses to enable future lexical analysis. Correlational analyses with previous norms from the USA and UK demonstrate both consistencies and differences in English-language norms over time and between geographical regions. Further exploration of the norms reveals a number of structural and psycholinguistic differences between abstract and concrete categories. The data and analyses will be of use in the fields of cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, psycholinguistics, and cognitive modelling, and to any researchers interested in semantic category structure. All data, including original participant recordings, are available at https://osf.io/jgcu6/.
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Vol.:(0123456789)
1 3
Behavior Research Methods
https://doi.org/10.3758/s13428-021-01787-z
Category production norms for117 concrete andabstract categories
BrionyBanks1 · LouiseConnell1,2
Accepted: 23 December 2021
© The Author(s) 2022
Abstract
We present a database of category production (aka semantic fluency) norms collected in the UK for 117 categories (67
concrete and 50 abstract). Participants verbally named as many category members as possible within 60 seconds, resulting
in a large variety of over 2000 generated member concepts. The norms feature common measures of category production
(production frequency, mean ordinal rank, first-rank frequency), as well as response times for all first-named category mem-
bers, and typicality ratings collected from a separate participant sample. We provide two versions of the dataset: a referential
version that groups together responses that relate to the same referent (e.g., hippo, hippopotamus) and a full version that
retains all original responses to enable future lexical analysis. Correlational analyses with previous norms from the USA
and UK demonstrate both consistencies and differences in English-language norms over time and between geographical
regions. Further exploration of the norms reveals a number of structural and psycholinguistic differences between abstract
and concrete categories. The data and analyses will be of use in the fields of cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, psy-
cholinguistics, and cognitive modelling, and to any researchers interested in semantic category structure. All data, including
original participant recordings, are available at https:// osf. io/ jgcu6/.
Keywords Category production· Semantic fluency· Categories· Abstract concepts· Concrete concepts
Introduction
The ability to categorize concepts is a vital part of
human cognition that allows us to understand and
interpret the world around us. Accordingly, category
production (also termed semantic or verbal fluency)
is a widely used task in both cognitive and neuropsy-
chology that is considered to reflect the structure and
organization of the conceptual system, and particularly
the taxonomy of concepts in semantic memory. A cat-
egory production task simply requires participants to
name concepts that belong to a given category, such as
ANIMALS1 or EMOTIONS. It is used in a wide range
of research, but particularly to investigate underly-
ing categorical and conceptual structure (e.g., Crowe
& Prescott, 2003; Hampton & Gardiner, 1983; Rosch,
1975; Troyer, 2000), semantic memory (e.g., Binney
etal., 2018; Ryan etal., 2008), and executive function
(e.g., Baldo & Shimamura, 1998; Fisk & Sharp, 2004;
Shao etal., 2014). The task is also an important tool in
clinical research (e.g., Bokat & Goldberg, 2003; Henry
& Crawford, 2004) and diagnosis (e.g., Quaranta etal.,
2016; Zhao etal., 2013). The importance of the cate-
gory production task across multiple cognitive domains,
and its use in both research and clinical settings, has led
to numerous sets of category production norms being
published in the last few decades. The first such norms
were collected in the USA in 1957 (Cohen etal., “The
Connecticut Norms”), and were subsequently updated
by Battig and Montague (1969) in their widely cited
* Briony Banks
b.banks@lancaster.ac.uk
* Louise Connell
louise.connell@mu.ie
1 Department ofPsychology, Fylde College, Lancaster
University, Bailrigg, LancasterLA14YF, UK
2 Department ofPsychology, Maynooth University, Maynooth,
Co. Kildare, Ireland
1 To maximise clarity throughout the paper, we use uppercase for
category names and lowercase italics for member concepts: for exam-
ple, the category ANIMAL contains the members cat, dog, and ele-
phant.
Behavior Research Methods
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set of norms. Since then, category production norms
have been published in at least nine different languages
(see Fig.1), which have been used in a wide range of
psychological research, including psycholinguistics
(e.g., Stadthagen-Gonzalez etal., 2017; Warriner etal.,
2013), memory (e.g., Ryan etal., 2008; Veling & van
Knippenberg, 2004), language comprehension (e.g.,
Federmeier etal., 2010; Jahncke etal., 2013), cogni-
tive ageing (e.g., Ferreira etal., 2019; Raz etal., 1998),
and disorders such as schizophrenia (e.g., Brébian etal.,
2010; Vinogradov etal., 1992) and Alzheimer’s disease
(McDowd etal., 2011; Ober etal., 1991).
Category production norms have been collected from
a variety of geographical regions, spanning North and
South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia (see Fig.1).
Nevertheless, most English-language norms to date have
been collected in the USA. To our knowledge, only four
relatively small sets of category production norms have
originated in the UK: Brown (1972; 28 categories), Hamp-
ton and Gardiner (1983; 12 categories from the Battig &
Montague norms), Morrow and Duffy (2005; 14 catego-
ries comparing data from younger and older adults), and
Plant etal. (2011; 10 concrete noun and 10 ad hoc verb
categories). Thus, a contemporary and comprehensive set
Aizpurua
Battig
Bordignon
Brown
Bueno
Casey
Castro
Chan
Cohen
Dubois
Hampton
Howard
Hunt
Kantner
Kim
Kućar
Léger
Li
Loess
Mannhaupt
Marchal
Marchenko (a) Marchenko (b)
Marful
Marshall
McEvoy
Montefinese
Morrow
Pascual
Pineiro
Pinto
Plant
Ruts
Scheithe Schröder
Shapiro
Soro
Soto
Storms
Troyer
Van Overschelde
Yoon
Yoon
Spanish (Spain)
Spanish (Cuba)
Russian (Russia)
Portuguese (Portugal)
Portuguese (Brazil)
Korean (Korea)
Italian (Italy)
German (Germany)
French (France)
English (USA)
English (UK)
English (New Zealand)
English (Canada)
English (Australia)
Dutch (Belgium)
Croatian (Croatia)
Chinese (Hong Kong)
Chinese (China)
Cantonese (Hong Kong)
19601970 1980 1990200020102020
Year
Language & Country
Number of Categories
2
25
50
75
105
Fig. 1 Published category production norms per year, country and
number of categories. Note. Plotted studies represent normative cat-
egory production data from adult, non-clinical populations published
in a peer-reviewed journal, book, or conference proceedings between
1957 and 2021, not all of which are currently available as datasets.
Studies are ordered alphabetically by language and region; circle size
indicates the number of categories included in the study, and labels
indicate the first author
Behavior Research Methods
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of category production norms from the UK is not currently
available. Localizing category production norms by region
is important because comparisons between norms have
found that, while certain categories appear to have mini-
mal differences between geographical regions, many other
categories show large geocultural variation (Brown, 1978;
Hampton & Gardiner, 1983; Kantner & Lindsay, 2014).
For example, Brown (1978) compared norms collected at
the same time in Scotland, UK (Brown, 1972) and the
United States (Battig & Montague, 1969). Across the 12
categories compared, half had relatively similar patterns of
production frequency (CHEMICAL ELEMENTS, UNITS
OF TIME, FOUR-FOOTED ANIMALS, COLOURS,
MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS, PRECIOUS STONES:
Pearson’s r = .88 to .61) but some categories differed sub-
stantially between locations in their listed category mem-
bers (OCCUPATIONS OR PROFESSIONS, ARTICLES
OF CLOTHING, SPORTS, and BIRDS: r = .29 to −.06).
Similar patterns were observed by Hampton and Gardiner
(1983) when comparing their norms collected in London,
UK, with Battig and Montague’s (1969) American norms.
Their most frequently named member concepts were very
similar for certain categories (e.g., for FRUIT, the top
four members in both norms were apple, orange, pear and
banana), but quite different for others (e.g., for SPORT,
the top three member concepts produced by UK partici-
pants were soccer [football in the UK], rugby, and tennis,
but for US participants these were [American] football,
baseball, and basketball).
Category structure can also vary over time. Van Over-
schelde etal. (2004) compared their norms with the Battig
and Montague norms from 1969, both of which were col-
lected in the USA: production frequency for the catego-
ries COLOURS and PARTS OF THE BODY were highly
correlated (r > .90; e.g., the top four colours were identi-
cal in both studies: blue, red, green, and yellow), while
the categories A TYPE OF DANCE and A COLLEGE
OR UNIVERSITY correlated weakly (r = .05 and r = .20,
respectively), possibly reflecting changing societal and
cultural preferences in the 30 years between the studies
(e.g., the top four dances in 1969 were waltz, frug, twist,
and foxtrot, while in 2004 they were ballet, tango, salsa,
and hip hop). Given the potential variation resulting from
chronological and geographical differences in data col-
lection, even within the same language, providing a con-
temporary set of norms collected in the UK is a timely
and important addition to the study of semantic category
structure and language.
To date, most category production norms have largely
focused on concrete rather than abstract categories. While
the Battig and Montague (1969) norms included a rela-
tively diverse range of categories, they were nevertheless
predominantly concrete in nature (e.g., VEGETABLE,
SHIP, PART OF THE HUMAN BODY, PRECIOUS
STONE). As many subsequent studies have simply rep-
licated the Battig and Montague norms either in full or
using a smaller subset (e.g., Howard, 1980; Marful etal.,
2015; Marshall & Parr, 1996; Storms, 2001), they too
have focused on concrete categories, particularly those
of historical interest to theories of conceptual process-
ing, such as the basic-level categories outlined by Rosch
(1973; e.g., TREE, FRUIT, FISH, BIRD, MUSICAL
INSTRUMENT, TOOL, CLOTHING, VEHICLE, and
FURNITURE), and the superordinate category ANIMAL.
Indeed, category production norms have often focused
on just a few high-frequency concrete categories (e.g.,
Chan etal., 2003; Hampton & Gardiner, 1983; Morrow
& Duffy, 2005; Schröder etal., 2012; Troyer, 2000). As
a result, far fewer category production norms have been
collected for abstract categories; for example, only 15
of the original 56 categories by Battig and Montague
could be classed as abstract (e.g., SCIENCE, PART OF
SPEECH). These norms were replicated and extended by
Van Overschelde etal. (2004) in English, and by Bueno
and Megherbi (2009) in French, but only one and three
new abstract categories, respectively, were added (e.g.,
FOOTBALL PENALTY, ACADEMIC DISCIPLINE). A
larger number of abstract categories were included by
McEvoy and Nelson (1982; 26 abstract categories out of a
total of 106, e.g., COLLEGE LEVEL and SEASON) and
by Yoon etal. (2004; 26 abstract categories out of a total
of 105, e.g., EMOTION and MATHEMATICAL OPERA-
TION). Nevertheless, abstract categories still comprised a
relatively small proportion of the data, and neither study
purposely selected categories on the basis of abstractness;
rather, they were selected based on expected category
size (McEvoy & Nelson, 1982) and for the purpose of
cross-linguistic comparison (Yoon etal., 2004). To our
knowledge, no previous category production norms have
explicitly selected a substantial number of abstract cat-
egories, or examined differences between them and con-
crete categories. Thus, less is known about the structure
of abstract compared to concrete categories—for example,
which member concepts are most frequently named, and
the properties of generated concepts such as typicality
or, indeed, concreteness. Given the current interest in the
cognitive basis of abstract concepts (Borghi etal., 2017;
Connell etal., 2018; Desai etal., 2018; Ponari etal.,
2020), it seems timely to publish category production
norms and comparisons for a larger number of abstract
categories alongside more traditional concrete ones.
Certain measures of category production have commonly
been used across sets of norms to examine the structure of
categories and commonalities in participant responses, par-
ticularly how frequently each concept is produced per cat-
egory (overall, or as the first-produced concept) and in what
Behavior Research Methods
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order (i.e., the ordinal rank of each concept per category).
However, other measures may offer important insights into
the process of category production; in particular, response
times (RT) are a common implicit measure of concep-
tual processing, and in a category production task would
represent the processing time (and indirectly the effort or
difficulty) involved in accessing a category member from
long-term memory. RT can thus provide insight into how we
retrieve particular member concepts from semantic memory
and the relationship between the category label and mem-
ber concepts that come to mind. Indeed, RTs have recently
been used to examine the role of sensorimotor similarity
and linguistic distributional relations between the category
label and the first-produced category member (Banks etal.,
2021), as well as neuropsychological deficits (Rohrer etal.,
1995) and individual differences (Luo etal., 2010; Shao
etal., 2014) in category production. However, only one
extant set of category production norms has included RT as
a variable: Van Overschelde etal. (2004) reported RTs for
all responses given within 30 seconds, but these RTs were
measured from the offset of typing a response (i.e., pressing
an enter key when finished) rather than the onset, and so the
measured latencies conflate both processing effort to think
of a response and typing time to record it. Latencies from
verbal responses can provide a more accurate measure of
RT, as they can be measured from the exact onset of speech
following presentation of the category name. In the present
norms, we therefore took the approach of asking participants
to generate verbal responses, which enabled us to accurately
measure RT for each first-named category member from the
onset of speech following stimulus presentation. We report
mean response latencies for item-level data (trial-level RTs
per participant are provided as supplemental material),
which may prove particularly useful in understanding the
mechanisms behind generating initial category members
(see e.g., Banks etal., 2021).
At this point, it is worth noting two common incon-
sistencies in the methodologies of category production
norms. Firstly, norming procedures often differ in the
number of responses participants are allowed to make.
Many studies replicate the original method employed by
Cohen etal. (1957), which allowed as many responses
as possible within 30 seconds, while others have limited
the number of responses to just one (McEvoy & Nelson,
1982) or the first few only (Kantner & Lindsay, 2014;
Montefinese etal., 2013; Yoon etal., 2004), potentially
limiting the usefulness of these datasets as research tools.
Allowing participants to generate many category mem-
bers rather than just a few, and allowing a longer time
limit (e.g., 60 seconds) so as to avoid cut-offs for par-
ticularly slow or profuse responses, allows the full diver-
sity of category production responses to be recorded; we
therefore took this approach in the norms reported here.
Such data can potentially allow more in-depth study of
category structure, for example semantic clustering
(Troyer, 2000; Troyer etal., 1997), or the mechanisms
behind activation of concepts from long-term memory
(Banks etal., 2021).
Secondly, there are often differences in how studies
handle lexical and morphological differences in par-
ticipant responses, which affects the relevant frequency
counts and ranks for member concepts. Category produc-
tion tasks often generate responses that have the same
core referent concept but that vary in their precise word
form in terms of morphology (e.g., FRUIT:apple vs
apples; EMOTION:happy vs happiness) or vocabulary/
synonym choice (e.g., FURNITURE:couch vs sofa; REL-
ATIVE:dad vs father). Such responses have been handled
in a variety of ways in previous norms. Some studies have
largely preserved lexical and morphological distinctions
apart from minor spelling variations, such as hi-rise and
high-rise (e.g., Howard, 1980; Ruts etal., 2004; Yoon
etal., 2004). However, others have grouped morphologi-
cal variations (e.g., Battig & Montague, 1969; Bueno &
Megherbi, 2009; Kantner & Lindsay, 2014; Marchenko
etal., 2015; McEvoy & Nelson, 1982; Montefinese etal.,
2013; Plant etal., 2011; Van Overschelde etal., 2004) or
synonymous responses (e.g., Castro etal., 2021; Marful
etal., 2015; Montefinese etal., 2013; Van Overschelde
etal., 2004) under one lexical entry. Although any method
of grouping responses is inherently subjective, it can be
useful for examining broad similarities in semantic cat-
egory structure. An alternative approach is to provide
both grouped and full responses, as in Van Overschelde
etal. (2004), allowing for easy comparison with previous
norms which have used different data preparation meth-
ods, whilst also preserving more fine-grained linguistic
and semantic differences. We therefore used this approach
in the current study, compiling two sets of our norms: a
referential version with morphological and synonymous
variations (i.e., those referring to the same core refer-
ent) grouped together under one label, and a full version
with all lexical and morphological variations of responses
preserved.
Finally, typicality ratings—that is, how good an exam-
ple of its category is a particular concept—are often
included in category production norms alongside meas-
ures of frequency and ordinal rank (e.g., Izura etal., 2005;
Léger etal., 2008; Montefinese etal., 2013; Plant etal.,
2011; Ruts etal., 2004; Schröder etal., 2012). Typical-
ity has frequently been studied as a measure of graded
category structure (e.g., Osherson & Smith, 1981; Rosch,
1975; Rosch etal., 1976), and can predict the frequency
and rank order of category production responses (e.g.,
Hampton & Gardiner, 1983; Mervis etal., 1976; Monte-
finese etal., 2013; Uyeda & Mandler, 1980). In addition
Behavior Research Methods
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to our category production data, we thus include typicality
ratings for the majority of category–member pairs from a
separate sample of participants.
The present study
To summarize, we present a large set of category produc-
tion norms that has several advantages over existing norms
in the English language. First, to the best of the authors’
knowledge, they comprise the largest and most contempo-
rary set of category production norms collected in the UK.
Second, they comprise production norms for the largest
number of concrete and abstract categories in English to
date: 67 concrete and 50 abstract categories (117 in total).
Given the large number of categories, the norms span a
variety of category levels and subtypes: subordinate, basic,
and superordinate taxonomic levels, as well as semantic
categorical divisions such as natural and artefact, animate
and inanimate, social and non-social category types. Third,
we provide two versions of our category production norms:
a referential version (which groups responses with the same
referent, and forms the basis of the analyses reported here)
and a full version (which leaves each response in its original
word form, with analyses included as supplemental mate-
rial). Researchers may select the most appropriate version
for their required purpose. Fourth, by allowing participants
to provide as many responses as possible within 60 sec-
onds, we have generated a very large and comprehensive
dataset for future research, containing 2445 unique cate-
gory–member pairs in the referential version (5475 includ-
ing idiosyncratic items produced by only one participant),
or 2557 unique pairs in the full version (6448 including
idiosyncratic items). Fifth, we include RTs for all first-
named concepts per category. Although we do not report
RTs for every response, the majority of audio recordings
(those where participants gave permission) are available for
other researchers to calculate such timings if desired. Sixth,
and finally, we provide typicality ratings for 2234 member
concepts within their categories (87% of items in the full
version; 80% of items in the referential version), collected
from a separate sample of participants, to enable analysis
of categorical gradedness.
To validate the norms, we present an analytical com-
parison between the present data and previous sets of Eng-
lish-language norms, from both the UK (Hampton & Gar-
diner, 1983) and the USA (Van Overschelde etal., 2004).
We also report a number of structural and psycholinguis-
tic differences between abstract and concrete categories,
which highlights the importance of making available cat-
egory production norms for abstract as well as concrete
categories. These norms have already proven useful in our
own lab, where we have used them to study and computa-
tionally model the process of conceptual activation during
category production (Banks etal., 2021). We hope that the
norms will be of interest and use to researchers in a broad
range of cognitive and psychological research, and any
field seeking to gain insight into the processes involved in
selecting and retrieving category members from semantic
memory.
Study 1: Category production norms
Methods: Category production norming
Participants
Sixty-four participants recruited from Lancaster Univer-
sity took part for payment of £3.50 GBP. Participants were
recruited from the general student and staff population of
Lancaster University, and likely included a proportion of
Psychology undergraduates, although we did not collect
details of course subject or academic background as part
of our demographic data. Three participants were excluded
as they were non-native speakers of English (i.e., question-
ing during debriefing revealed that they had misunderstood
the screening criteria), and one was excluded for provid-
ing too few responses (M < 2 responses per category).
Of the remaining 60 participants, all had English as their
native language, 46 were female, mean age was 21.72 years
(SD = 5.73), and 52 were right-handed. The study received
ethical approval from the Lancaster University Faculty of
Science and Technology Research Ethics Committee. Par-
ticipants gave their informed consent to take part and to pub-
licly share their anonymized data, and could additionally opt
in to sharing publicly their original voice recordings with
anonymized filenames: 52 out of 60 participants consented
to do so.
Materials
We selected 117 categories representing a range of concrete
and abstract concepts (see Table1), the majority of which
were selected from the categorization literature (Battig &
Montague, 1969; Capitani etal., 2003; Larochelle etal.,
2000; McEvoy & Nelson, 1982; Rosch, 1975; Uyeda &
Mandler, 1980; Van Overschelde etal., 2004). Where pos-
sible, categories spanned multiple taxonomic levels, such as
the basic (e.g. BIRD), superordinate (e.g. ANIMAL), and
subordinate (e.g. WATER BIRD) levels. The 67 concrete
categories represented a range of living and non-living,
animate and inanimate, artefact and natural, and biologi-
cal and non-biological semantic categories. We included
many common concrete categories that have been frequently
investigated in the categorization literature (e.g., FRUIT,
Behavior Research Methods
1 3
MUSICAL INSTRUMENT), as well as other less common
concrete categories (e.g., BIRD OF PREY, ROOM IN A
HOUSE). The 50 abstract categories covered social and non-
social, human and non-human, and internal (i.e., relating to
internal human experience) and external semantic catego-
ries. Some of these categories had been previously included
in category production norms (e.g., SCIENCE, EMOTION)
while others were novel to the present study. Some of the
novel abstract categories were subordinate (e.g., VIOLENT
CRIME, NEGATIVE EMOTION) or modified variants of
those already selected from the literature (e.g., ROYAL
TITLE), while others were created de novo by the authors
based on categorical distinctions in WordNet (Princeton
University, 2010) for abstract entities (e.g., PERSONAL
QUALITY, FRACTION, SOCIAL GATHERING). All cat-
egories were piloted on participants not involved in the main
study to ensure that they were understandable. Categories
were divided into three lists of 39 categories each, counter-
balanced as much as possible across the abstract/concrete
dimension. Categories that constituted a subset of another
category (e.g., WATER BIRD, BIRD) were not included in
the same stimulus list. Four additional categories (BREAD,
CIRCUS ACT, FOOTWEAR, and CONTINENT) that were
not featured in the main task were used as practice items to
ensure participants had understood the instructions.
Procedure
Following consent procedures, participants sat individu-
ally in front of a computer screen while wearing a head-
set microphone. They read instructions that asked them to
name aloud as many concepts as possible that belonged to
each category, within a maximum of 60 seconds (exact task
instructions are provided as supplemental materials on the
Table 1 All 117 categories featured in the category production norms, comprising 50 abstract and 67 concrete categories
Abstract categories
Academic subject Injury Profession Team sport
Art form Legal profession Psychological illness Three-dimensional shape
Artistic movement Medical specialty Racket sport Time of day
Book genre Military title Religion Two dimensional shape
Crime Month Royal title Type of word
Day of the week Negative emotion Science Unit of length
Disease Negative personal quality Season Unit of time
Emotion Non-violent crime Social gathering Unit of weight
Family relationship Personal quality Social relationship Violent crime
Fraction Political system Sport Water sport
Geometric shape Positive emotion Statistical term Winter sport
Healthcare profession Positive personal quality Supernatural being
Infectious disease Prime number Symptom of illness
Concrete categories
Alcoholic drink Dairy product Human dwelling Religious building
Animal Drug Insect Rodent
Bathroom fixture Fabric Jewellery Room in a house
Bird Farm animal Kitchen appliance Snake
Bird of prey Fish Kitchen utensil Spice
Boat Flower Living room furniture Stinging insect
Body of water Four-legged animal Meat String instrument
Breed of dog Four-wheeled vehicle Metal Tool
Building Fruit Musical instrument Tree
Building material Fuel Natural landform Two-wheeled vehicle
Camping equipment Furniture Nut Vegetable
Carpenter's tool Gardening tool Part of a boat Vehicle
Chemical element Gemstone Part of a building Water bird
Citrus fruit Green vegetable Part of a tree Weapon
Clothing Hair colour Part of the body Weather
Colour Hat Part of the face Wind instrument
Cosmetic Herb Reading material
Behavior Research Methods
1 3
OSF). PsychoPy (version 1.85.4) was used to present the
stimuli and audio-record all responses. Participants triggered
the start of each trial by pressing the space bar on the key-
board. Each trial began with a fixation cross for 500 ms fol-
lowed by the category name presented in capital letters in the
centre of the screen. The category name remained onscreen
until participants could not name any more concepts and
pressed the spacebar to end the trial, or until the trial timed
out automatically after 60 seconds. When a trial ended, the
words “Press space bar when ready” then appeared onscreen
until participants triggered the next trial; timing between
categories was thus self-paced, and participants could take a
short break between categories if required. Participants first
carried out the four practice trials, and were then randomly
assigned to one of the three category lists. Each list was
presented to 20 participants, and categories from each list
were presented in randomized order for each participant.
Verbal responses were audio-recorded through a headset
microphone and were simultaneously transcribed during
the task by the experimenter (hidden from the participant’s
view behind a panel screen); these transcriptions were later
verified via the audio recordings. Unintelligible responses
(comprising 0.08% of all responses) were coded as such and
are represented as skipped ranks in the trial-level dataset.
The entire experimental procedure took approximately 20
minutes, after which participants provided demographic
information and were debriefed by the experimenter.
Norms data preparation
In preparing the norming data, we took a bottom-up, data-
driven perspective on category membership that included
any concepts that our participants considered to belong to
a given category (see similar approaches in Battig & Mon-
tague, 1969; Van Overschelde etal., 2004). That is, we
did not apply a top-down, constraint-driven perspective by
selecting category members for inclusion based on whether
they might be considered “true” or “correct” members of
that category, but future researchers can apply such con-
straints as appropriate for their particular research.
Full version All transcribed responses were included in this
dataset exactly as they were spoken, preserving morphologi-
cal differences such as agreement and grammatical tense,
and using British English spellings.
Referential version For each category, responses which
referred to the same core referent were combined under
one grouping label: specifically, the response most fre-
quently produced by participants. This referential group-
ing applied to any morphological variations (e.g., singular
and plural forms of a word such as ANIMAL:cheetah/
cheetahs cheetah; different parts of speech such as
EMOTION:happy/happiness happy), and synony-
mous variations (e.g., FAMILY RELATIONSHIP:mum/
mother mother) in the terminology used to label a refer-
ent. Where an equal number of responses were produced
for each variant label (e.g., an equal number of participants
named rucksack and backpack for the category CAMPING
EQUIPMENT), we selected the word with the higher fre-
quency in British English as the grouping label (e.g., ruck-
sack/backpack rucksack) based on frequency counts for
unigrams and bigrams from the SUBTLEX-UK corpus (van
Heuven etal., 2014). If neither variant label appeared in the
SUBTLEX-UK corpus (e.g., sandwich maker and sandwich
toaster for the category KITCHEN APPLIANCE), we car-
ried out a search on British English texts from 1999–2019
in the Google Books Ngram Viewer (http:// books. google.
com/ ngrams), and selected the word with the higher fre-
quency count as the grouping label (e.g., sandwich maker);
20 items were selected for use this way. In three cases, an
equal number of participants produced full (two-word) and
abbreviated (single-word) variants of a response (e.g., CAR-
PENTER’S TOOL:spirit level/level), where the single-word
term was polysemous and therefore frequency counts would
be inaccurate; for these cases, the unabbreviated version was
selected as the grouping label to avoid ambiguity. Responses
that were closely related but did not refer to the same core
referent were maintained as separate items, such as subor-
dinate categorical distinctions (e.g., wine and white wine).
Category production measures We calculated three meas-
ures of category production at the category level: category
size was the total number of unique, non-idiosyncratic
member concepts (i.e., concepts produced by more than one
participant) that were listed for a given category across the
entire set of participants; mean number of responses was the
average number of responses produced by each participant
for a given category, calculated as the total number of non-
idiosyncratic responses collated for that category divided
by the number of participants who saw that category. We
also calculated a novel measure of category openness to
distinguish between closed categories (i.e., where each par-
ticipant named the same fixed set of category members) and
more open-ended categories (where each participant tended
to name completely different category members). The
measure was calculated as openness = 1 − (mean number
of responses / category size), where 0 reflects a completely
closed category and 1 reflects a completely open category.
At the item level, we calculated several measures of cat-
egory production: production frequency (the number of par-
ticipants who named a particular member concept within
its category); first-rank frequency (the number of partici-
pants who named a particular member concept first within
its category, where responses that were never named as a
Behavior Research Methods
1 3
first response by any participant were excluded rather than
given a frequency of zero); and mean rank (the mean ordinal
position of a particular member concept within its category).
We also calculated weighted rank: a modified Borda count
for open-ended responding based on the maximum rank in
the dataset (i.e., 32), whereby the production frequency of
each member concept in its category was weighted by the
ordinal rank position in which each individual participant
named it. For each participant and category, first responses
were scored as 32, second responses as 31, third responses
as 30, and so on. Weighted rank is the sum of these scores
per category–member item, where higher values indicate
category members produced both early and often and lower
values indicating category members produced rarely and/or
later in response lists. Finally, we calculated the mean RT for
first-named member concepts within their category. RT per
trial was measured from the onset of the category name until
onset of speech to name the first member concept (dysfluen-
cies were disregarded). RT onset was determined by Psy-
choPy from the onset of the category name, and RT offset
was measured by experimenter markup of speech onset in
Praat (Boersma & Weenink, 2018); notwithstanding human
error in the latter, we estimate RT measurement error to be
within ±1 ms2.
The 22 contains a full list of variables featured in the
norms; all measures were calculated separately for the full
and referential versions. Repeated responses in both versions
of the norms were disregarded and did not contribute to the
calculation of any category production measures. Summary
statistics and Spearman’s correlations between all measures
of category production were calculated in JASP version
0.14.1 (JASP Team, 2020).
Methods: Typicality ratings
Participants
In order to recruit a sample with similar linguistic experi-
ence to the category production study, we restricted recruit-
ment to native speakers of English who were UK nationals
on the online research crowdsourcing tool Prolific. A total
of 141 native speakers of English took part in this study
via Prolific; however, 14 participants’ submissions were
rejected because their ratings did not pass our quality con-
trol checks (i.e., they were not paid and their data were
excluded; see Data Preparation below). New participants
were recruited via Prolific until we reached N = 12 for all
stimulus lists (participants who were not rejected were
able to rate multiple lists). A total of 127 participants were
included in the final analysis (88 female, mean age = 31.23
years, SD = 10.33 years, 111 right-handed) and received
£1.75 GBP for participation. Ethical approval was gained
from the Lancaster University Faculty of Science and Tech-
nology Research Ethics Committee, and all participants
gave their informed consent to take part and openly share
their anonymized data.
Materials
Stimuli for typicality ratings comprised 2280 cate-
gory–member word pairs: 2234 pairs from the full version
of the present norms (this dataset comprised all items used
in the analysis of Banks etal., 2021), plus an additional 46
pairs that were rated for use in a separate study and do not
feature in the present norms. Category–member pairs were
pseudo-randomly divided into 20 stimuli lists, whereby each
category was distributed across lists as equally as possible.
Member concepts that appeared with more than one cat-
egory (e.g., eagle for the categories BIRD and BIRD OF
PREY) or that appeared in both singular and plural forms
(e.g., apple and apples for the category FRUIT) were allo-
cated to separate lists. In addition, production frequency (see
Measures of category production) and log word frequency
(LgSUBTLWF, from the English Lexicon Project, Balota
etal., 2007) were counterbalanced across lists (mean pro-
duction frequency per list = 5.73 [SD = 4.65] ranging from
5.24 to 6.05, with no significant difference between lists,
F[19] = 0.28, p = 0.999; mean LgSUBTLWF per list = 2.59
[SD = 0.87] ranging from 2.48 to 2.74, with no significant
difference between lists, F[19] = 0.98, p = 0.485).
We selected 80 items from our stimuli with known typi-
cality ratings from previous studies (Armstrong etal., 1983;
Rosch, 1975; Uyeda & Mandler, 1980) to use as quality con-
trol checks in online data collection. Half of these had high
typicality ratings (i.e., < 1.6 on a scale of 1–7, 1 being high
typicality and 7 being low typicality; M = 1.34, SD = 0.19)
and half had low typicality ratings (i.e., > 3.7, M = 4.39,
SD = 0.54); each stimulus list contained four high-typicality
and four low-typicality control items. Two further items not
featured in our stimuli were used as scale calibrators: one
high typicality (TOY:doll) and one low typicality (VEHI-
CLE:surfboard), presented at the start of each stimulus list;
these items are not included in the present norms. Each stim-
ulus list therefore comprised 120 items (category–member
word pairs), including the two calibrator and eight control
items.
2 Item-level RTs correlated weakly with lexical variables relating
to the presented category name (word length in letters, r = .22, < 5%
shared variance; number of syllables, r = .22, < 5%; and log word
frequency, r = .02, < 1%); that is, first-response RTs were not con-
founded with lexical properties of the category name. These analy-
ses are available on the OSF as supplemental material at https:// osf.
io/ jgcu6/.
Behavior Research Methods
1 3
Procedure
Each stimulus list was presented in randomized order in an
online questionnaire via Qualtrics. For each item, the cat-
egory name was presented in capital letters in the centre of
the screen, above the framing question “How good an exam-
ple of this category is/are a/an X(s)?” (e.g., ANIMAL: “How
good an example of this category is a cat?”) and the rating
scale 1–5 (with 1 being a “very poor” example, and 5 being a
“very good” example). Participants were asked to base their
ratings on their own judgements (exact task instructions are
provided as supplemental material on the OSF). Participants
responded using a mouse, where only one response per item
was allowed, but participants could also indicate if they did
not know the meaning of the category or the category mem-
ber (no ratings were recorded for such trials). The entire
ratings procedure took approximately 15 minutes. At the
end of the stimulus list, participants provided demographic
information and read a study debrief.
Typicality data preparation
To check the quality of the online data, each participant’s
ratings for the control items were correlated with ratings
gained from previous studies. If the Pearson’s correlation
coefficient was r < .30, and the variance of that participant’s
data was close to zero, then the participant was excluded
for failing to adequately attend to and/or understand the
task. Fourteen participants were excluded on this basis (see
Participants). We calculated inter-rater reliability for each
stimulus list using Cronbach’s alpha calculated using the
psych package in R (Revelle, 2021). Inter-rater reliability
was high for each stimulus list (r ≥ .79 for all lists, range
.79 to .90). For each category–member pair, we then cal-
culated the mean typicality rating across all participants.
These item-level ratings are provided in the full category
production dataset. For the referential version of the data,
where responses were grouped according to their core refer-
ent, the mean typicality rating was used for grouped items
(e.g., for the category–member pair ANIMAL:cheetah,
both singular and plural responses were grouped together;
thus the mean typicality rating for cheetah and cheetahs was
used). Correlations between typicality ratings and measures
of category production were calculated and plotted using the
ggcorr function from the GGally package (Schloerke etal.,
2021) in RStudio version 1.3.959. As the measures were
differentially distributed, which can artificially restrict the
value of Pearson’s correlation (J. Cohen etal., 2013), we
opted to calculate Spearman’s correlation as the measure of
association between variables.
Results
Summary statistics across all categories for both full and
referential versions of the norms are shown in Table2.
Analyses of the norms reported in this section focus on the
referential version of the data, although analyses of the full
version are also provided as supplemental material at https://
osf. io/ jgcu6/. Idiosyncratic items (i.e., category members
named by only one participant; also provided as supplemen-
tary material) were excluded from all analyses, resulting in
a total of 2445 distinct category–member pairs for the ref-
erential dataset at the item level. As the analyses reported
here were exploratory, no inferential statistics are reported.
At the category level, Fig.2 shows category size (i.e., total
number of unique member concepts) and mean number of
Table 2 Summary statistics for category production measures across all 117 categories (both versions of norms, excluding idiosyncratic items),
with total number of items for each measure and the mean and standard deviation
The N for mean number of responses is larger in the referential version due to the grouping of similar concepts and thus fewer idiosyncratic
responses being excluded than in the full version
Variable Referential version Full version
NMean SD NMean SD
Category level
Category size 2445 20.90 10.37 2558 21.86 11.08
Mean number of responses 14639 6.45 3.04 13817 6.10 2.94
Category openness 14639 0.67 0.13 13817 0.70 0.13
Item level
Production frequency 2445 5.97 4.92 2558 5.38 4.43
Mean rank 2445 6.43 3.68 2558 6.22 3.67
Weighted rank 2445 164.42 147.41 2557 149.18 133.14
First-rank frequency 675 3.16 3.60 722 2.88 3.21
RT (seconds) first response 675 3.65 2.12 722 3.56 2.08
Typicality rating 1956 4.18 0.67 2234 4.21 0.66
Behavior Research Methods
1 3
two−wheeled vehicle
racket sport
type of word
artistic movement
bird of prey
stinging insect
three−dimensional shape
season
rodent
non−violent crime
day of the week
religious building
legal profession
political system
nut
citrus fruit
dairy product
snake
wind instrument
part of a tree
gemstone
infectious disease
four−wheeled vehicle
unit of weight
fuel
positive emotion
military title
natural landform
social gathering
unit of length
water bird
winter sport
psychological illness
jewellery
royal title
water sport
carpenter's tool
fabric
supernatural being
art form
string instrument
boat
religion
body of water
herb
hat
science
unit of time
metal
two−dimensional shape
part of a boat
gardening tool
human dwelling
medical specialty
building material
violent crime
month
flower
tool
geometric shape
injury
spice
green vegetable
farm animal
hair colour
tree
bathroom fixture
negative emotion
weapon
statistical term
negative personal quality
book genre
reading material
cosmetic
healthcare profession
living room furniture
time of day
disease
prime number
camping equipment
vehicle
fraction
drug
crime
furniture
fish
social relationship
team sport
meat
symptom of illness
part of a building
emotion
kitchen utensil
insect
room in a house
weather
colour
positive personal quality
part of the face
alcoholic drink
kitchen appliance
personal quality
building
musical instrument
vegetable
chemical element
breed of dog
bird
four−legged animal
profession
fruit
academic subject
family relationship
sport
part of the body
clothing
animal
0204060
Number of concepts
Category
Mean number of responses
Category size
Fig. 2 Lollipop plot of category size and mean number of responses per category
Behavior Research Methods
1 3
responses (i.e., number of member concepts listed by an aver-
age participant) for each category. Category size ranged from
a very small set of six member concepts (TWO-WHEELED
VEHICLE, RACKET SPORT, and TYPE OF WORD) to a very
large set of 69 (ANIMAL). Participants named on average 6.47
concepts per category, but this number was highly variable and
ranged from 2.00 concepts (ARTISTIC MOVEMENT) to 17.85
concepts (ANIMAL). For certain bounded categories, the cat-
egory size and mean number of responses were very similar (i.e.,
MONTH and DAY OF THE WEEK), indicating that partici-
pants tended to consistently name the full set of possible mem-
ber concepts; indeed, these categories had the lowest openness
scores of all categories (.02 and .05 respectively; e.g., almost all
participants named all seven days of the week). For other cat-
egories, responses were more variable; for example, ANIMAL,
EMOTION, and TREE have large differences between the
total category size and mean number of responses, and accord-
ingly, large openness scores (ANIMAL and EMOTION = .74,
TREE = .78) indicating greater inter-participant variability in the
subset of member concepts each individual produced for that
category. For instance, although participants listed on average
seven different types of EMOTION, it represented only 26% of
the total category size of 27 members. Openness ranged from
.02 (MONTH) to .85 (NEGATIVE PERSONAL QUALITY),
although the majority of categories were relatively open, with
93% scoring > .50—that is, individual responses within most
categories varied somewhat between participants. Openness was
moderately and positively correlated with category size (ρ = .45,
i.e., larger categories were more open), but was only weakly and
negatively correlated with mean number of responses (ρ = −.16,
i.e., participants tended to give fewer responses to more open
categories). Openness was also strongly related to the number
of idiosyncratic responses per category (ρ = .75), whereby open
categories contained more idiosyncratic category members.
At the item level, we carried out Spearman’s correlations
between all five measures of category production and typi-
cality (see Fig.3). Both production frequency and first-rank
frequency were moderately negatively correlated with mean
ordinal rank, indicating that more frequent responses were
named earlier in the task. Weighted rank was very strongly
positively correlated with production frequency, and hence
shows a very similar pattern of intercorrelation with other
variables. First-response RTs were negatively correlated with
production frequency (more frequently produced responses
were named faster) and weighted rank (early, frequently
produced responses were named faster), but were only very
weakly correlated with first-rank frequency and not at all with
mean rank. Typicality ratings were moderately correlated with
both frequency measures as well as weighted rank (concepts
with higher typicality ratings were named more frequently
overall and as a first or early response), but were more weakly
and negatively correlated with mean rank and RT (more typi-
cal responses were named earlier and faster).
Comparisons withprevious norms
We compared our current norms with two previous sets of
category production norms: Van Overschelde etal. (2004), a
contemporary replication of the Battig and Montague norms
collected in the USA; and Hampton and Gardiner (1983),
an older set of norms collected in the UK for 12 categories.
The goal of this comparison was to allow us to analyse dif-
ferences in category production across geographical regions
but within a relatively similar time frame (i.e., twenty-first-
century norms from the UK versus USA), and across time
periods but within the same region (i.e., UK norms from late
2010s versus early 1980s). Van Overschelde etal. (2004)
gained their norms from at least 600 participants per category
(M = 672 participants, range = 633–710), while Hampton and
Gardiner (1983) had a sample size of 72 participants for all
categories. As not all categories in our norms overlapped
with those of the other two studies, we analysed only the
44 matching categories from Van Overschelde etal. and
the 11 matching categories from Hampton and Gardiner.
Several category names in Van Overschelde’s norms were
slightly different from our category names, sometimes due to
what appeared to be dialectal differences; in such cases, we
matched the categories where we judged that they referred
to the same semantic class (e.g., ALCOHOLIC BEVER-
AGE and ALCOHOLIC DRINK; RELATIVE and FAM-
ILY RELATIONSHIP). Because the majority of responses
were reported in the singular form by Overschelde etal. and
Hampton and Gardiner, we used the singular form of all items
in our dataset for the purpose of comparison (e.g., for PART
OF THE BODY, we used hand instead of hands). Minor dif-
ferences in spelling were also standardized across the three
−.25 .56−.3 .41 .55
−.31 −.03 −.1 −.32
−.48 .66 .97
−.59 −.3
.62
Ty p.
RT
WR
MR
FRF
PF
−0.5
0.0
0.5
Fig. 3 Correlation heatmap (Spearman’s correlations) between meas-
ures of category production and typicality. Note. PF = production fre-
quency; FRF = first-rank frequency; MR = mean rank; WR = weighted
rank; RT = mean first-response time; Typ. = typicality rating
Behavior Research Methods
1 3
datasets as British English spelling (e.g., meter metre;
chicken pox chickenpox; sulfur sulphur), and repeti-
tions of category names were added for consistency (e.g., for
the category TREE, the response apple was consistently ren-
dered as apple tree). Idiosyncratic items were excluded from
all norms before comparison; Van Overschelde etal.’s norms
already excluded responses produced by < 5% of participants.
All three measures of category production (production
frequency, mean rank, and first-rank frequency) were avail-
able for comparison in Van Overschelde etal.’s norms, but
only production frequency and first-rank frequency were
available in Hampton and Gardiner’s norms. As the variables
being compared were differentially distributed, as before we
opted to calculate Spearman’s correlation as the measure
of association between variables (calculated in RStudio
version 1.3.959 using the dplyr package: Wickham etal.,
2021); these were first calculated globally (i.e., based on all
category–member pairs) and then per category. To capture
differences in the overlap between responses (i.e., to what
extent particular responses were given in one study but not
in another), we ran correlations of production frequency on
category members produced by participants in either rele-
vant study, where absent category members were allocated a
production frequency of zero (e.g., the item BIRD:swan had
a production frequency of 5 in our norms, but was absent
from Van Overschelde’s and so received a value of 0). For
first-rank frequency and mean rank, correlations were based
only on items produced in both relevant studies (following
Brown, 1978; Kantner & Lindsay, 2014). Note that there
were insufficient data to calculate per-category correlations
for first-rank frequency (e.g., many categories had 0–2 over-
lapping first-named members), and so we report global cor-
relations only.
Cross‑region comparisons
Overall, the present UK norms showed a variable resem-
blance to the Van Overschelde etal. (2004) USA norms. The
global correlation for production frequency was moderate
at best (ρ = .35, N = 1376) while correlations for mean rank
(ρ = .75, N = 595) and first-rank frequency (ρ = .63, N = 201)
were much higher. This pattern is largely due to a relatively
low overlap in produced items for certain categories (i.e.,
many items produced in one set of norms were not produced
in the other), but matching items between norms were pro-
duced in a similar order and at similar first-response fre-
quency; indeed, when only matching items between studies
were analysed, the correlation for production frequency was
much higher (ρ = .72). The difference in correlations under-
scores that, when comparing category production norms, it
is important to consider items that are present only in one
dataset and absent in the other because focusing only on
overlapping items can inflate the apparent congruence.
Correlations for individual categories showed large geo-
graphic variation (see Fig.4). While certain categories are
very similar between the UK and USA (e.g., UNIT OF TIME,
COLOUR, TYPE OF WORD), others greatly differ (e.g.,
WEATHER, VEHICLE, TREE). These differences appear
to be driven by three main factors. Firstly, differences in the
natural environment meant that many biological categories
had quite different member concepts per region (e.g., half of
US participants’ responses to the category SNAKE are spe-
cies native to North America but not Europe, and were never
named by our UK participants). Secondly, but distinctly from
the first point, cultural differences had a similar effect on some
social and artefact categories (e.g., for ALCOHOLIC DRINK,
45% of UK participants produced cider compared to zero US
participants3, and out of a total of 40 responses across both
studies, only nine were produced in both—e.g., vodka, whis-
key, and beer). Lastly, as we did not attempt to control for
dialect, differences in terminology were also responsible for
some differences in listed category members (e.g., the most
frequent responses for the category FUEL were petrol in the
UK and gasoline in the US norms, which in fact have the same
referent of refined petroleum). These cross-region patterns
closely match previous UK–US comparisons (Brown, 1978;
Hampton & Gardiner, 1983), where certain categories were
found to be highly consistent between regions (e.g., CHEMI-
CAL ELEMENT, UNIT OF TIME, COLOUR, PRECIOUS
STONE, FRUIT—all of which were also highly correlated in
the present analysis), and others much less so (e.g., CLOTH-
ING, SPORT, FISH—again, matching the present pattern of
results). Critically, the differences we observe here between
contemporary category production in the UK versus USA
highlight the importance of using geographically appropriate
norms in psychological research.
Cross‑time comparisons
The present norms (collected in 2017–2018) also showed a
variable resemblance to the Hampton and Gardiner (1983)
norms, collected more than 35 years earlier in the UK. The
global correlation for production frequency was moderate
(ρ = .45, N = 584; although, as for cross-region compari-
sons, when only matching items were analysed the correla-
tion was stronger, ρ = .64, N = 267), as was that for first-rank
frequency (ρ = .43, N = 54), which suggests that there was
limited overlap in the member concepts produced for each
category as well as some differences in which items were
named first.
3 In the USA, cider is typically non-alcoholic while hard cider is
alcoholic; nonetheless, this geographic difference between norms is
cultural rather than terminological, because both cider and hard cider
are absent from the US norms for ALCOHOLIC DRINK.
Behavior Research Methods
1 3
Per-category correlations for production frequency
were moderate to low (see Fig.5). Category production
responses were somewhat consistent between Hampton
and Gardiner’s (1980s) sample and the present (2010s)
UK sample for natural categories such as FRUIT, INSECT,
FLOWER, and VEGETABLE, but were far less so for oth-
ers such as WEAPON, FISH, BIRD, and SPORT. Cultural
changes can potentially explain many of these differences.
For example, in the category CLOTHING, hoodie was
named by 45% of participants in our norms but was never
given as a response in the 1983 norms. Similarly, basket-
ball and running are both frequent responses for the cat-
egory SPORT in our norms (named by 80% and 45% of
participants, respectively) but were only named by 26%
weather
drug
fuel
weapon
vehicle
boat
human dwelling
gardening tool
fish
tree
furniture
disease
profession
alcoholic drink
science
crime
family relationship
sport
bird
snake
vegetable
reading material
natural landform
kitchen utensil
carpenter's tool
insect
clothing
part of a building
herb
flower
fabric
musical instrument
four-legged animal
chemical element
gemstone
type of word
fruit
unit of length
part of the body
military title
religious building
metal
colour
unit of time
-0.5 0.00.5 1.0
Correlation (ρ)
category
Production Frequency
weather
snake
unit of length
part of a building
herb
tree
human dwelling
vegetable
bird
natural landform
four-legged animal
gemstone
drug
chemical element
military title
fish
sport
carpenter's tool
religious building
clothing
fruit
musical instrument
part of the body
metal
disease
profession
gardening tool
kitchen utensil
reading material
furniture
boat
crime
alcoholic drink
flower
type of word
weapon
insect
family relationship
fabric
science
vehicle
fuel
colour
unit of time
-0.5 0.00.5 1.0
Correlation (ρ)
category
Mean Rank
Fig. 4 Dot plots of the cross-region comparison between current cat-
egory production norms (UK) and norms from Van Overschelde etal.
(2004: USA), showing per-category Spearman’s correlations for pro-
duction frequency and mean rank. Note: Categories in each plot are
ordered by size of correlation coefficient (high to low). Correlations
for production frequency include items produced in either study; cor-
relations for mean rank only include matching items produced in both
studies
Behavior Research Methods
1 3
of participants each in the 1980s. Even natural categories
can potentially capture cultural shifts, such as differences
in the category FISH which likely reflect changes in UK
fish-eating habits: trout and plaice were named by > 50%
of participants in 1983, but were named by only 15% of
participants in the current data, while tuna is presently
the most popular response (named by 60% of participants
in our norms compared to 19% in 1983). Similar changes
over time were observed by Van Overschelde etal. (2004)
in the USA, where the largest shifts occurred in cultur-
ally dependent categories like TYPE OF MUSIC or TYPE
OF DANCE but also in less obvious categories such as
CLOTHING and VEGETABLES.
Overall, the cross-region and cross-time compari-
sons highlight the importance of geographically relevant
and up-to-date norms, as we observed many differences
between geographic regions and time periods. Never-
theless, some categories such as COLOUR or UNIT OF
TIME did show a strong level of robustness across geo-
graphical regions, which we speculate is because partici-
pants’ experiences of these categories’ member concepts
were quite similar. For example, the same colours, called
by the same names, tend to occur in similar distributions
in both the USA and UK, and hence the category COL-
OUR was relatively robust across these regions. However,
none of the categories available for comparison across
time showed such a high degree of robustness, which may
be due to the specific categories in question. That is, if cat-
egories such as COLOUR had been normed in the 1980s
UK study, we may have seen the same pattern of responses
as in 2010s UK.
Study 2: Concrete versusabstract categories
As the present category production norms are the first to
collect data for such a wide variety of abstract categories,
our goal in this second study is to explore and present what
differences exist between abstract and concrete categories in
category production behaviour. To this end, we first compare
the domains in terms of the measures of category production
we outlined in Study 1, at both the item and category level.
Furthermore, because abstract and concrete domains often
differ in several psycholinguistic variables (i.e., abstract
words tend to be longer, of lower frequency, and acquired
later, and of course have lower concreteness than concrete
words: e.g., Gilhooly & Logie, 1980; Kousta etal., 2011),
we also examine whether and how the member concepts of
abstract and concrete categories differ in these terms.
Method
We examined category- and item-level variables for all
2445 member concepts in the referential version of our cat-
egory production norms, separately for the 67 concrete and
50 abstract categories. As in Study 1, idiosyncratic items
were excluded from analysis. In addition, we examined how
member concepts for abstract and concrete categories com-
pared across four additional psycholinguistic variables: word
frequency (Zipf scores from the SUBTLEX-UK database:
van Heuven etal., 2014), word length (calculated using
the Stringi package, Gagolewski, 2020, in RStudio version
1.3.959), age of acquisition (Kuperman etal., 2012), and
concreteness ratings (Brysbaert etal. (2014). Coverage for
the three variables differed: word frequencies were available
for 2095 (86%) items, word length for all (100%) items, age
of acquisition ratings for 1760 (72%) items, and concreteness
ratings for 1892 (77%) items.
Results andDiscussion
Table3 shows summary statistics for all variables across con-
crete and abstract categories. Overall, concrete categories were
larger in size than abstract categories, containing on average
2.5 more member concepts per category (see Fig.6). The larg-
est concrete category was ANIMAL, at 69 member concepts,
but this category was something of an outlier in its size (see
Fig.2). The next-largest concrete categories were CLOTHING
weapon
fish
sport
bird
furniture
vehicle
clothing
vegetable
insect
flower
fruit
-0.5 0.00.5 1.0
Correlation (ρ)
category
Production Frequency
Fig. 5 Dot plot of the cross-time comparison between current cate-
gory production norms (UK) and norms from Hampton and Gardiner
(1983: UK), showing per-category Spearman’s correlations for pro-
duction frequency
Behavior Research Methods
1 3
(47 members) and PART OF THE BODY (45 members), which
were comparable to the largest abstract categories of SPORT
(46 members) and PROFESSION (43 members). Following the
same pattern, participants tended to produce slightly more mem-
ber concepts for concrete than abstract categories, but the mean
difference was less than one member per category. Concrete
categories were on average slightly more open than abstract,
with a narrower distribution (see Fig.6); participants were more
likely to name a different set of category members for concrete
categories (e.g., TREE, WEAPON) than for abstract categories
(e.g., EMOTION, FRACTION), where participants tended to
name relatively similar sets of category members. However, the
most open and closed categories (i.e., categories at both tail-
ends of the distribution) all tended to be abstract: for instance,
PERSONAL QUALITY, PROFESSION, and INJURY were all
highly open categories, while TYPE OF WORD, DAY OF THE
WEEK, and MONTH were all quite closed.
At the item level, Fig.7 shows density plots for the
four measures of category production and typicality rating
for concrete and abstract categories. There were no clear
differences in how frequently member concepts were
named for their category (i.e., production frequency) or
in how often particular concepts tended to be named first
for their category (i.e., first-rank frequency). In mean
rank, abstract categories had a slightly lower mean than
concrete categories (i.e., member concepts tended to be
named in earlier ordinal positions), which likely reflects
the fact that participants tended to list fewer member
Table 3 Summary statistics for category production measures and psycholinguistic variables in concrete and abstract categories (referential ver-
sion of norms, excluding idiosyncratic items), with total number of items for each measure and the mean and standard deviation
Variable Abstract categories Concrete categories
NMean SD NMean SD
Category level
Category size 970 19.40 9.60 1475 22.02 10.85
Mean number of responses 5759 5.95 2.73 8880 6.82 3.23
Category openness 5759 0.65 0.18 8880 0.68 0.07
Item level
Production frequency 970 5.92 5.16 1475 6.00 4.76
Mean rank 970 6.01 3.57 1475 6.71 3.74
First-rank frequency 276 3.23 3.78 399 3.11 3.47
RT (seconds) first response 276 4.14 2.62 399 3.31 1.62
Typicality rating 734 4.26 0.59 1222 4.13 0.71
Psycholinguistic variables
Word frequency 813 3.86 0.92 1282 3.80 0.78
Word length 970 7.99 3.12 1475 6.67 2.56
Age of acquisition 655 8.07 2.99 1105 7.09 2.83
Concreteness 719 3.48 0.98 1173 4.69 0.38
0.00
0.01
0.02
0.03
0.04
0.05
20 40 60
Category Size
Density
Abstract
Concrete
0
2
4
0.00 0.25 0.50 0.75 1.00
Openness
Density
Abstract
Concrete
Fig. 6 Density plots of category size and openness for abstract and concrete categories. Note. Dotted lines indicate mean values
Behavior Research Methods
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concepts for abstract categories. The largest difference
occurred in RT for first-named member concepts, where
participants were approximately 800 ms slower to pro-
duce a response for abstract categories than for concrete
categories, implying that abstract category members were
more effortful to produce than concrete. Lastly, typical-
ity ratings were slightly higher (i.e., more typical) for
abstract than for concrete category members; that is, par-
ticipants tended to produce “better” examples of abstract
categories than of concrete categories. This pattern could
arguably be related to category size, whereby the larger
concrete categories were more likely to include unusual
members than the relatively smaller abstract categories.
Very few members of abstract categories were extremely
low in typicality (i.e., ≤ 2 on the 1–5 typicality scale;
e.g., the lowest rating of 1.83 was for nine as a PRIME
NUMBER), whereas concrete categories contained sev-
eral members with low typicality (e.g., rating of 1.17 for
cupboard as a ROOM IN A HOUSE; or 1.42 for rabbit
as a RODENT).
In terms of psycholinguistic variables, the differences
between concrete and abstract category members were mostly
rather small (see Fig.8). There was no clear difference in
word frequency, but abstract category members were on aver-
age one letter longer than concrete members. Members of
abstract categories were acquired on average one year later
than members of concrete categories, although (as visible in
the density plot) they also had a bimodal distribution: many
0.00
0.05
0.10
0.15
5101520
Production Frequency
Density
Abstract
Concrete
0.00
0.05
0.10
0.15
01020
Mean Rank
Density
Abstract
Concrete
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
5101520
First Rank Frequency
Density
Abstract
Concrete
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
5101
52
0
First Response Time (secs)
Density
Abstract
Concrete
0.00
0.25
0.50
0.75
12345
Ty picality Rating
Density
Abstract
Concrete
Fig. 7 Density plots of category production measures and typicality
for abstract and concrete category members. Note. Dotted lines indi-
cate mean values. Since all measures exclude idiosyncratic items,
the minimum value for production and first-rank frequency is 2.
Response times are for first-named category members only
Behavior Research Methods
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abstract category members were acquired around the age of
5–6 years, similar to the mode of concrete concepts, but a
second peak occurred around 7–8 years.
Unsurprisingly, the two domains greatly differed in con-
creteness, with abstract category members having a much
lower mean concreteness rating than concrete category
members. Abstract category members also had a much
flatter distribution across the concreteness scale, which
meant—somewhat counterintuitively—that many members
of abstract categories were actually highly concrete. For
example, 13% of abstract category members had ratings
of 4.5 or above on the 1–5 concreteness scale (e.g., PRO-
FESSION:teacher; SPORT:ice skating; GEOMETRIC
SHAPE:rectangle). Indeed, when the average concreteness
of each category was calculated as the mean rating of its
constituent member concepts (see Fig.9), 70% of abstract
categories contained concrete members on average (i.e.,
the categories had a mean rating above the midpoint of
3 on the 1–5 scale), for example DAY OF THE WEEK,
PRIME NUMBER, and SPORT. By comparison, all con-
crete categories contained concrete members on average,
and some 64% of concrete category members were highly
concrete (i.e., rated above 4.5). The relative differences in
overall concreteness are further illustrated in Fig.9, which
plots all 117 categories ordered by their mean concreteness
rating per category. A clear distinction between concrete
and abstract categories is apparent but is not as clear-cut as
might be expected. Many categories traditionally defined
as concrete are indeed at the highest end of the scale (e.g.,
ANIMAL, FRUIT, VEGETABLE, FURNITURE, TOOL),
and many clearly abstract categories are at the lowest end
of the scale (e.g., PERSONAL QUALITY, EMOTION,
RELIGION, POLITICAL SYSTEM, UNIT OF TIME).
Nonetheless, the average concreteness of many abstract
categories was still relatively high and comparable to that
of concrete categories (e.g., THREE-DIMENSIONAL
SHAPE, RACKET SPORT) and, conversely, some con-
crete categories had average concreteness comparable to
many abstract categories (e.g., DRUG, WEATHER). In
other words, the abstract nature of a category does not
necessarily reflect the abstractness of its member concepts,
which may be due at least in part to the role of relations in
forming certain categorical groups (e.g., Gentner & Kurtz,
2005; Rehder & Ross, 2001).
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
123456
Word Frequency (zipf value)
Density
Abstract
Concrete
0.00
0.05
0.10
0.15
10 20
Word Length
Density
Abstract
Concrete
0.00
0.05
0.10
0.15
51015
Age of Acquisition
Density
Abstract
Concrete
0.0
0.5
1.0
1.5
2.0
2345
Concreteness
Density
Abstract
Concrete
Fig. 8 Density plots for psycholinguistic measures of abstract and concrete category members. Note. Dotted lines indicate mean values
Behavior Research Methods
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Conclusion
We provide the first comprehensive set of UK category pro-
duction norms for a large number of concrete and abstract
categories, including two category-level measures (cat-
egory size and mean number of responses) and five item-
level measures (production frequency, mean rank, first-rank
frequency, response times to the first-named members,
plus separately normed typicality ratings for most items).
In addition, we provide two versions of the norms: a ref-
erential version that groups together responses relating to
the same core referent, and a full version that retains all
lexical variations in responses as produced by participants.
We also provide the trial-level data for each participant,
including original voice recordings where consent allows,
to enable more detailed analyses. These norms represent a
timely update and extension of previous category produc-
tion norms from the UK, which capture important regional
5
4
3
2
1
Fig. 9 Polar plot showing mean concreteness rating per category (ordered lowest to highest clockwise) for concrete and abstract categories
Behavior Research Methods
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differences in category structure compared to contemporary
USA, and generational differences within the UK over the
last 35 years. Finally, the norms incorporate an extensive set
of abstract categories; we provide the first comparison of
category production norms for concrete and abstract catego-
ries, highlighting structural and psycholinguistic differences
between them, and observing that the constituent members
of abstract categories can in fact be highly concrete. We
hope that the norms and analyses will be of interest and
use to a broad range of researchers in cognitive psychology,
neuropsychology, psycholinguistics, cognitive modelling,
and any field interested in semantic category structure or
the process of producing category members.
Appendix
The variables included in category production norms are
as follows.
Category‑level variables
A. Category = category name presented to participants
B. Domain = whether category was abstract or concrete
C. category.size = number of unique member concepts
(produced by more than one participant) that were
named for a given category
D. mean.number.responses = average number of responses
produced by each participant per category (total number
of non-idiosyncratic participant responses for the cat-
egory divided by the total number of participants)
E. category.openness = extent to which category responses
were closed (i.e., each participant listed the same, fixed
set of members) or open (i.e., each participant listed a
completely different set of members); 1-(mean number
responses/category size)
F. idiosyncratic.members = number of idiosyncratic cat-
egory members produced for the category
G. mean.typicality = mean typicality rating for the category
H. mean.wordfreq.SUBTLEXUK = mean zipf frequency of
all category members
I. mean.word.length = mean word length (number of let-
ters) of all category members
J. mean.AoA.Kuperman = mean age of acquisition of all
category members
K. mean.concreteness.Brysbaert = mean concreteness rat-
ing of all category members
Item‑level variables
A. category = category name presented to participants
B. category.member = member concept produced by par-
ticipants for that category
C. domain = whether category was abstract or concrete
D. prod.freq = production frequency: number of partici-
pants who named a particular member concept within
its category
E. prod.freq.percent = production frequency expressed as a
percentage (i.e., divided by total number of participants)
F. mean.rank = mean ordinal position of a particular mem-
ber concept within its category
G. first.rank.freq = number of participants who named a
particular member concept first within its category
H. first.rank.freq.percent = first-rank frequency expressed
as a percentage (i.e., divided by total number of partici-
pants)
I. weighted.rank = the production frequency of a given
member concept in its category weighted by the ordi-
nal rank position in which each individual participant
named it
J. mean.RT = mean response time (across all participants)
of the category member when named as a first response
K. typicality = typicality rating
L. wordfreq.SUBTLEXUK = zipf frequency
M. word.length = number of letters
N. AoA.Kuperman = age of acquisition
O. concreteness.Brysbaert = concreteness rating
Acknowledgements We thank Victor Kuperman for permission to
include the Kuperman etal. (2012) Age of Acquisition ratings in the
norms we present here.
Availability of data and materials All images, code, and data presented
in this article, including original participant recordings, are available at
https:// osf. io/ jgcu6/, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribu-
tion 4.0 International License (CC-BY), which permits use, sharing,
adaptation, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format,
as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the
source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate
whether changes were made.
Code availability The code used in this study is available at https://
osf. io/ jgcu6/.
Funding This work is part of a project that has received funding from
the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s
Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant agreement
No. 682848) to LC.
Declarations
Conflicts of interest The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare
that are relevant to the content of this article.
Ethics approval The studies reported here received ethical approval
from the Lancaster University Faculty of Science and Technology
Research Ethics Committee.
Consent to participate Informed consent was obtained from all indi-
vidual participants included in the study.
Behavior Research Methods
1 3
Consent for publication Informed consent was obtained from all indi-
vidual participants included in the study.
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attri-
bution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adapta-
tion, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long
as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source,
provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes
were made. The images or other third party material in this article are
included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated
otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in
the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not
permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will
need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a
copy of this licence, visit http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ licen ses/ by/4. 0/.
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