Human cognition is striking in its brilliance and its adaptability. How do we get that way? How do we move from the nearly helpless state of infants to the cognitive proficiency that characterizes adults? In this paper I argue, first, that analogical ability is the key factor in our prodigious capacity, and, second, that possession of a symbol system is crucial to the full expression of analogical ability.
Analogy and similarity are central phenomena in human cognition, involved in processes ranging from visual perception to conceptual change. To capture this centrality requires that a model of comparison must be able to integrate with other processes and handle the size and complexity of the representations required by the tasks being modeled. This paper describes extensions to Structure-Mapping Engine since its inception in 1986 that have increased its scope of operation. We first review the basic SME algorithm, describe psychological evidence (...) for SME as a process model, and summarize its role in simulating similarity-based retrieval and generalization. Then we describe five techniques now incorporated into the SME that have enabled it to tackle large-scale modeling tasks: Greedy merging rapidly constructs one or more best interpretations of a match in polynomial time: O); Incremental operation enables mappings to be extended as new information is retrieved or derived about the base or target, to model situations where information in a task is updated over time; Ubiquitous predicates model the varying degrees to which items may suggest alignment; Structural evaluation of analogical inferences models aspects of plausibility judgments; Match filters enable large-scale task models to communicate constraints to SME to influence the mapping process. We illustrate via examples from published studies how these enable it to capture a broader range of psychological phenomena than before. (shrink)
Adult humans show exceptional relational ability relative to other species. In this research, we trace the development of this ability in young children. We used a task widely used in comparative research—the relational match-to-sample task, which requires participants to notice and match the identity relation: for example, AA should match BB instead of CD. Despite the simplicity of this relation, children under 4 years of age failed to pass this test (Experiment 1), and their performance did not improve even with (...) initial feedback (Experiment 2). In Experiments 3 and 4, we found that two kinds of symbolic-linguistic experience can facilitate relational reasoning in young children. Our findings suggest that children learn to become adept analogical thinkers, and that language fosters this learning in at least two distinct ways. (shrink)
Metaphor has a double life. It can be described as a directional process in which a stable, familiar base domain provides inferential structure to a less clearly specified target. But metaphor is also described as a process of finding commonalities, an inherently symmetric process. In this second view, both concepts may be altered by the metaphorical comparison. Whereas most theories of metaphor capture one of these aspects, we offer a model based on structure-mapping that captures both sides of metaphor processing. (...) This predicts (a) an initial processing stage of symmetric alignment; and (b) a later directional phase in which inferences are projected to the target. To test these claims, we collected comprehensibility judgments for forward (e.g., “A rumor is a virus”) and reversed (“A virus is a rumor”) metaphors at early and late stages of processing, using a deadline procedure. We found an advantage for the forward direction late in processing, but no directional preference early in processing. Implications for metaphor theory are discussed. (shrink)
We tested whether analogical training could help children learn a key principle of elementary engineering—namely, the use of a diagonal brace to stabilize a structure. The context for this learning was a construction activity at the Chicago Children's Museum, in which children and their families build a model skyscraper together. The results indicate that even a single brief analogical comparison can confer insight. The results also reveal conditions that support analogical learning.
This paper considers the past and future of Psychology within Cognitive Science. In the history section, I focus on three questions: (a) how has the position of Psychology evolved within Cognitive Science, relative to the other disciplines that make up Cognitive Science; (b) how have particular Cognitive Science areas within Psychology waxed or waned; and (c) what have we gained and lost. After discussing what’s happened since the late 1970s, when the Society and the journal began, I speculate about where (...) the field is going. (shrink)
A central question in human development is how young children gain knowledge so fast. We propose that analogical generalization drives much of this early learning and allows children to generate new abstractions from experience. In this paper, we review evidence for analogical generalization in both children and adults. We discuss how analogical processes interact with the child's changing knowledge base to predict the course of learning, from conservative to domain-general understanding. This line of research leads to challenges to existing assumptions (...) about learning. It shows that it is not enough to consider the distribution of examples given to learners; one must consider the processes learners are applying; contrary to the general assumption, maximizing variability is not always the best route for maximizing generalization and transfer. (shrink)
We investigated the understanding of causal systems categories—categories defined by common causal structure rather than by common domain content—among college students. We asked students who were either novices or experts in the physical sciences to sort descriptions of real-world phenomena that varied in their causal structure (e.g., negative feedback vs. causal chain) and in their content domain (e.g., economics vs. biology). Our hypothesis was that there would be a shift from domain-based sorting to causal sorting with increasing expertise in the (...) relevant domains. This prediction was borne out: The novice groups sorted primarily by domain and the expert group sorted by causal category. These results suggest that science training facilitates insight about causal structures. (shrink)
Detecting that two images are different is faster for highly dissimilar images than for highly similar images. Paradoxically, we showed that the reverse occurs when people are asked to describe how two images differ—that is, to state a difference between two images. Following structure-mapping theory, we propose that this disassociation arises from the multistage nature of the comparison process. Detecting that two images are different can be done in the initial (local-matching) stage, but only for pairs with low overlap; thus, (...) “different” responses are faster for low-similarity than for high-similarity pairs. In contrast, identifying a specific difference generally requires a full structural alignment of the two images, and this alignment process is faster for high-similarity pairs. We described four experiments that demonstrate this dissociation and show that the results can be simulated using the Structure-Mapping Engine. These results pose a significant challenge for nonstructural accounts of similarity comparison and suggest that structural alignment processes play a significant role in visual comparison. (shrink)
We agree with Penn et al. that our human cognitive superiority derives from our exceptional relational ability. We far exceed other species in our ability to grasp analogies and to combine relations into higher-order structures (Gentner 2003). However, we argue here that possession of an elaborated symbol system is necessary to make our relational capacity operational.
Prepositions name spatial relationships. But they are also used to convey abstract, non-spatial relationships —raising the question of how the abstract uses relate to the concrete spatial uses. Despite considerable success in delineating these relationships, no general account exists for the two most frequently extended prepositions: in and on. We test the proposal that what is preserved in abstract uses of these prepositions is the relative degree of control between the located object and the reference object. Across four experiments, we (...) find a continuum of greater figure control for on and greater ground control for in. These findings bear on accounts of semantic structure and language change, as well as on second language instruction. (shrink)
Carey proposes that the acquisition of the natural numbers relies on the interaction between language and analogical processes: specifically, on an analogical mapping from ordinal linguistic structure to ordinal conceptual structure. We suggest that this analogy in fact requires several steps. Further, we propose that additional analogical processes enter into the acquisition of number.