MAC/FAC: A model of similarity-based retrieval

Kenneth D Forbus*, Dedre Gentner, Keith Law

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

477 Scopus citations


We present a model of similarity-based retrieval that attempts to capture three seemingly contradictory psychological phenomena: (a) structural commonalities are weighed more heavily than surface commonalities in similarity judgments for items in working memory; (b) in retrieval, superficial similarity is more important than structural similarity; and yet (c) purely structural (analogical) remindings e sometimes experienced. Our model, MAC/FAC, explains these phenomena in terms of a two-stage process. The first stage uses a computationally cheap, non-structural matcher to filter candidate long-term memory items. It uses content vectors, a redundant encoding of structured representations whose dot product estimates how well the corresponding structural representations will match. The second stage uses SME (structure-mapping engine) to compute structural matches on the handful of items found by the first stage. We show the utility of the MAC/FAC model through a series of computational experiments: (a) We demonstrate that MAC/FAC can model patterns of access found in psychological data; (b) we argue via sensitivity analyses that these simulation results rely on the theory; and (c) we compare the performance of MAC/FAC with ARCS, an alternate model of similarity-based retrieval, and demonstrate that MAC/FAC explains the data better than ARCS. Finally, we discuss limitations and possible extensions of the model, relationships with other recent retrieval models, and place MAC/FAC in the context of other recent work on the nature of similarity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-205
Number of pages65
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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