Salience, similes, and the asymmetry of similarity

Andrew Ortony*, Richard J. Vondruska, Mark A. Foss, Lawrence E. Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Models of similarity have traditionally assumed that the similarity relation is symmetrical. However, when reversed, similarity statements frequently have different properties from those of the original. Previous attempts to account for the asymmetry of similarity have focused only on literal comparisons, resulting in a tendency to underestimate the degree of asymmetry in nonliteral comparisons (i.e., similes). A model of similarity is proposed to account for the varying degrees of asymmetry found in all kinds of natural language comparisons. In this model, asymmetry is attributed to an imbalance in the salience of the shared attributes. Studies are reported which test key aspects of the model. The results appear to provide converging evidence for the claim that asymmetry of similarity is due at least in part to salience imbalance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)569-594
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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