|Alma mater||Harvard (Ph.D.)|
|Institutions||University of California, Berkeley|
Eleanor Rosch (once known as Eleanor Rosch Heider; born 1938) is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in cognitive psychology and primarily known for her work on categorization, in particular her prototype theory, which has profoundly influenced the field of cognitive psychology. Throughout her work Rosch has conducted extensive research focusing on topics including semantic categorization, mental representation of concepts, and linguistics. Her research interests include cognition, concepts, causality, thinking, memory, and cross-cultural, Eastern, and religious psychology. Her more recent work in the psychology of religion has sought to show the implications of Buddhism and contemplative aspects of Western religions for modern psychology.
From field experiments she conducted (alongside her, then, then husband Karl Heider) in the 1970s with the Dani people of Papua New Guinea, Rosch concluded that when categorizing an everyday object or experience, people rely less on abstract definitions of categories than on a comparison of the given object or experience with what they deem to be the object or experience best representing a category. Although the Dani lack words for all the English colors (their language contained only two color terms dividing all colors into either the "light, bright" category or the "dark, cool" category), Rosch showed that they could still categorize objects by colors for which they had no words. She argued that basic objects have a psychological import that transcends cultural differences and shapes how such objects are mentally represented. She concluded that people in different cultures tend to categorize objects by using prototypes, although the prototypes of particular categories may vary.