How Language Enables Abstraction: A Study in Computational Cultural Psychology

Yair Neuman, Peter Turney, Yohai Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The idea that language mediates our thoughts and enables abstract cognition has been a key idea in socio-cultural psychology. However, it is not clear what mechanisms support this process of abstraction. Peirce argued that one mechanism by which language enables abstract thought is hypostatic abstraction, the process through which a predicate (e. g., dark) turns into an object (e. g., darkness). By using novel computational tools we tested Peirce's idea. Analysis of the data provides empirical support for Peirce's mechanism and evidence of the way the use of signs enables abstraction. These conclusions are supported by the in-depth analysis of two case studies concerning the abstraction of sweet and dark. The paper concludes by discussing the findings from a broad and integrative theoretical perspective and by pointing to computational cultural psychology as a promising perspective for addressing long-lasting questions of the field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-145
Number of pages17
JournalIntegrative Psychological and Behavioral Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • Abstraction
  • Computational cultural psychology
  • Hypostatic abstraction
  • Thought and language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Anthropology
  • Philosophy
  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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