Comparison promotes learning and transfer of relational categories

Kenneth J. Kurtz*, Olga Boukrina, Dedre Gentner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


We investigated the effect of co-presenting training items during supervised classification learning of novel relational categories. Strong evidence exists that comparison induces a structural alignment process that renders common relational structure more salient. We hypothesized that comparisons between exemplars would facilitate learning and transfer of categories that cohere around a common relational property. The effect of comparison was investigated using learning trials that elicited a separate classification response for each item in presentation pairs that could be drawn from the same or different categories. This methodology ensures consideration of both items and invites comparison through an implicit same-different judgment inherent in making the two responses. In a test phase measuring learning and transfer, the comparison group significantly outperformed a control group receiving an equivalent training session of single-item classification learning. Comparison-based learners also outperformed the control group on a test of far transfer, that is, the ability to accurately classify items from a novel domain that was relationally alike, but surface-dissimilar, to the training materials. Theoretical and applied implications of this comparison advantage are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1303-1310
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • Categorization
  • Category learning
  • Comparison
  • Relational categories
  • Structural alignment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Comparison promotes learning and transfer of relational categories'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this