Arthur B. Markman, Dedre Gentner

Similarity is a central component of many cognitive processes. Current research suggests that similarity is well characterized as a comparison of structured representations. This process yields commonalities, differences related to the commonalities (alignable differences), and differences not related to the commonalities (nonalignable differences). In the first study, further evidence for this tripartite distinction is provided in a commonality and difference listing study involving pairs of pictures. This study indicates that alignable differences rather than nonalignable differences are central to the comparison process by virtue of their connection to the commonalities. The second study further demonstrates that alignable differences count more against the similarity of a pair than do nonalignable differences. We end by discussing implications of the distinction between alignable and nonalignable differences for other cognitive processes involving comparisons.

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