Tracing Truth Through Conceptual Scaling: Mapping People’s Understanding of Abstract Concepts


Traditionally, the investigation of truth has been anchored in a priori reasoning. Cognitive science deviates from this tradition by adding empirical data on how people understand and use concepts. Building on psychophysics and machine learning methods, we introduce conceptual scaling, an approach to map people's understanding of abstract concepts. This approach, allows computing participant-specific conceptual maps from obtained ordinal comparison data, thereby quantifying perceived similarities among abstract concepts. Using this approach, we investigated individual's alignment with philosophical theories on truth and the predictive capacity of conceptual maps. The obtained results indicated that, while people's understanding of truth is multifaceted and encapsulates notions of coherence and authenticity, alignment is best for the correspondence theory of truth. Furthermore, conceptual maps allowed predicting individual outcomes with an accuracy of roughly 70%. This research demonstrates that conceptual scaling offers accurate descriptions of individual's understanding of abstract concepts, behavioral predictions, and quantification of alignment with theoretical perspectives.

Author's Profile

Kevin Reuter
University of Zürich


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