categorical perception

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Perception of stimuli as belonging to two or more distinct classes when in physical terms they vary along a continuum, as when light varying in wavelength within the visible spectrum is perceived as four (or sometimes five, six, or seven) qualitatively different colours, in contrast to musical tones varying in wavelength within the audibility range, which are heard by most listeners as points on a continuum. The perception of phonemes tends to be categorical, so that if voicing is gradually added to the unvoiced initial consonant in the word tie, the listener hears no significant change until a critical point at which the word abruptly changes to die. See also metathetic stimulus dimension, type fallacy.

Subjects: Psychology.

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