Structural Alignment during Similarity Comparisons

Arthur B. Markman, Dedre Gentner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

495 Scopus citations


Similarity comparisons are a basic component of cognition, and there are many elegant models of this process. None of these models describe comparisons of structured representations, although mounting evidence suggests that mental representations are well characterized by structured hierarchical systems of relations. We propose that structured representations can be compared via structural alignment, a process derived from models of analogical reasoning. The general prediction of structural alignment is that similarity comparisons lead subjects to attend to the matching relational structure in a pair of items. This prediction is illustrated with a computational simulation that also suggests that the strength of the relational focus is diminished when the relational match is impoverished, or when competing interpretations lead to rich object matches. These claims are tested in four experiments using the one-shot mapping paradigm, which places object similarity and relational similarity in opposition. The results support the hypothesis that similarity involves the alignment of structured representations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-467
Number of pages37
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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