How analogies are generated: The roles of structural and superficial similarity

Isabelle Blanchette, Kevin Dunbar

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Laboratory studies of analogical reasoning have shown that subjects are mostly influenced by superficial similarity in the retrieval of source analogs. However, real-world investigations have demonstrated that people generate analogies using deep structural features. We conducted three experiments to determine why laboratory and real-world studies have yielded different results. In the first two experiments, we used a 'production paradigm' in which subjects were asked to generate sources for a given target. Results show that the majority of the analogies that were generated displayed low levels of superficial similarity with the target problem. Moreover, most of the analogies were based on complex underlying structures. The third experiment used a 'reception paradigm' methodology. The subjects had to retrieve predetermined sources instead of generate their own. In this case, retrieval was largely constrained by surface similarity. We conclude that people can use structural relations when given an appropriate task and that this ability has been underestimated in previous research on analogy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)108-124
    Number of pages16
    JournalMemory and Cognition
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2000


    Dive into the research topics of 'How analogies are generated: The roles of structural and superficial similarity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this