Cultural commonalities and differences in spatial problem-solving: A computational analysis

Andrew Lovett*, Kenneth D Forbus

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


A fundamental question in human cognition is how people reason about space. We use a computational model to explore cross-cultural commonalities and differences in spatial cognition. Our model is based upon two hypotheses: (1) the structure-mapping model of analogy can explain the visual comparisons used in spatial reasoning; and (2) qualitative, structural representations are computed by people's visual systems and used in these comparisons. We apply our model to a visual oddity task, in which individuals are shown an array of two-dimensional images and asked to the pick the one that does not belong. This task was previously used to evaluate understanding of geometric concepts in two disparate populations: North Americans, and the Mundurukú, a South American indigenous group. Our model automatically generates representations of each hand-segmented image and compares them to solve the task. The model achieves human-level performance on this task, and problems that are hard for the model are also difficult for people in both cultures. Furthermore, ablation studies on the model suggest explanations for cross-cultural differences in terms of differences in spatial representations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-287
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Computational modeling
  • Cross-cultural
  • Qualitative representation
  • Spatial cognition
  • Structure-mapping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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