Structural Alignment in Comparison: No Difference Without Similarity

Author: Dedre Gentner, Arthur B. Markman

Year: 1994

Paper Description

The researchers in this study were testing the claim that people can find differences between similar items more easily than between dissimilar items. They did this by asking participants to look at a list of word pairs and write down as many differences as they could for each pair. The participants were told to focus on the easy pairs first, and the researchers made sure that half of the pairs were similar and half were dissimilar.

The researchers predicted that people would be able to list more differences (and particularly more differences that could be aligned) for the similar pairs than for the dissimilar pairs. This is because the researchers believed that people compare similar items by aligning their structures.

Key Takeaway 1

People can find differences between similar things more easily than between different things. This is because people compare similar things by aligning their structures. This means that when we compare two things, we tend to focus on the things that they have in common, and we notice the differences that are related to their common structure more easily.

Key Takeaway 2

This study supports the idea that similarity comparisons highlight differences related to the common structure. It also supports the idea that there are three types of differences: commonalities, alignable differences, and nonalignable differences. Commonalities are the things that two things have in common. Alignable differences are the differences that are related to their common structure. Nonalignable differences are the differences that are not related to their common structure.

Standout Quote

“The results obtained here suggest that commonalities and differences are fundamentally related. There is some evidence suggesting that commonalities and differences are seen as linked early in development.”

Tags

variation theory, variation, pedagogy, mathematics, task design,