The structure and function of spontaneous analogising in domain-based problem solving

Thinking and Reasoning 13 (3):273 – 294 (2007)
Laboratory-based studies of problem solving suggest that transfer of solution principles from an analogue to a target arises only minimally without the presence of directive hints. Recently, however, real-world studies indicate that experts frequently and spontaneously use analogies in domain-based problem solving. There is also some evidence that in certain circumstances domain novices can draw analogies designed to illustrate arguments. It is less clear, however, whether domain novices can invoke analogies in the sophisticated manner of experts to enable them to progress problem solving. In the current study groups of novices and experts tackled large-scale management problems. Spontaneous analogising was observed in both conditions, with no marked differences between expertise levels in the frequency, structure, or function of analogising. On average four analogies were generated by groups per hour, with significantly more relational mappings between analogue and target being produced than superficial object-and-attribute mappings. Analogising served two different purposes: problem solving (dominated by relational mappings), and illustration (which for novices was dominated by object-and-attribute mappings). Overall, our novices showed a sophistication in domain-based analogical reasoning that is usually only observed with experts, in addition to a sensitivity to the pragmatics of analogy use.
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