Book Definition:

An ideal or most representative example of a conceptual category.

In Your Own Words

  • A broad picture of something based on what you have been exposed to more frequently.
  • A mental model of a general concept, constructed by experience.
  • Everyone's prototype is a little different because they come from your own experiences but they all represent the general idea.
  • The first image that appears when you think of a word, this comes from experiences creating your own prototype


  • Consider the concept of "cat", and the prototype would be an image that represents a typical cat from your experience, say a house cat(prototype) not a lion.external image Prototype_membership.gif
  • Your prototype of a dog (when someone asks you to imagine one) may be a German Shepherd, just because you own that breed or your prototype of a bird may be a blue jay because one lives in your backyard.
  • Your prototype of a computer might be a monitor, a mouse, mouse pad, keyboard, and the system unit as that image comes to mind first.
  • When asked to imagine a guitar, most people picture a Gibson les paul or a Fender strat because those are two very/most common guitars for people who do not play or own a guitar.
  • In gym class, your instructor talks about canoeing, and you immediately picture the camping trip you went on last summer when you went canoeing with your family, because that was how you experienced it.
  • Someone asks you to picture a pig, most people would picture a big, huge pig that lives on a farm, but since you have one you picture the tiny little pig that lives in your house.
  • When people think of dancers they automatically think of a ballerina dancing on her toes, jumping, and spinning around.
  • When you think of a fast food restaurant you immediately think of places like McDonald's, Chick-fil-a, or any such place with a drive-thru.
  • Because you own an iPhone, when prompted with the word "cellphone," you picture your model as the mental representation.
  • When asked you to visualize a battery, most people think of a double A battery.
  • When your asked to draw a prototype of "glasses" you would draw the double lens, but no one thinks of the one eye glass.
  • What you draw on the app Draw Something as the picture clue

Additional Resources