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Do people find categorization rewarding? The prevalence of pastimes such as birdwatching, beachcombing, and mushroom hunting suggest they do. If categorization helps make sense of the world around us, it may act as a chronic source of reward, organizing people’s experience from the most basic levels (e.g., vision) all the way up through higher-order cognition (e.g., stereotyping). We experimentally tested whether people find the act of categorizing novel stimuli to be more affectively rewarding than simply viewing the same stimuli across 5 studies (four of which were preregistered). Categorizing novel cartoon animals and fish was more affectively rewarding than simply viewing the same images, in part because categorizing increased how much sense the images made to participants (and thus they were more meaningful and easier to attend to). Categorization may be rewarding because it helps people organize the world around them.
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