Structural alignment in comparison: No Difference Without Similarity

Dedre Gentner, Arthur B. Markman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

272 Scopus citations


Theories of similarity generally agree that the similarity of a pair increases with its commonalities and decreases with its differences. Recent research suggests that this comparison process involves an alignment of structured representations yielding commonalities, differences related to the commonalities, and differences unrelated to the commonalities. One counterintuitive prediction of this view is that it should be easier to find the differences between pairs of similar items than to find the differences between pairs of dissimilar items. This prediction is particularly strong for differences that are related to the commonalities. We tested this prediction in two experiments in which subjects listed a single difference for each of a number of word pairs. The results are consistent with the predictions of structural alignment. In light of these findings, we discuss the potential role of structural alignment in other cognitive processes that involve comparisons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)152-158
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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