Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Transfer of Structure-Related and Arbitrary Information in Analogical Reasoning

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Transfer of Structure-Related and Arbitrary Information in Analogical Reasoning

Article excerpt

Analogies can aid learners in understanding a new domain, yet misunderstandings may occur if they are applied too broadly. The present studies examined transfer of two types of information. Participants read analogical source and target stories. The source stories in Experiments 1 - 3 included two additional sentences that could be transferred to the target. One of the sentences was related to the analogical structure, while the other was more arbitrary. Participants transferred the structure-related information significantly more often than the arbitrary information both when retrieving source stories from memory (Experiment 1) and when having access to them (Experiment 2). Participants in Experiment 3 were explicitly encouraged to consider both types of information for transfer. Results showed the structure-related information was selected as the appropriate transfer sentence. Experiment 4 examined the possibility that reading both types of information in the source stories influenced transfer rates. Some participants received stories with both the structure-related and arbitrary information while others received stories with only one type of information. Again, participants transferred the structure-related information to a greater extent than the arbitrary information. Furthermore, no differences in transfer were found between participants who received both types of information in the source domain versus those who received only one type of information. Overall, the results of the studies provide evidence that learners will preferentially transfer information related to the shared analogical structure.

Forming an analogy between two domains is a powerful method by which people can understand a new situation or solve a new problem (e.g., Brown, 1989; Gentner, 1989; Gentner & Markman, 1997; Vosniadou, 1989). One can use principles from a familiar domain (often referred to as the source domain) to understand an unfamiliar (or target) domain. An analogy is formed when similar structural relations in two domains are mapped or placed into correspondence (Brown, 1989; Clement & Gentner, 1991; Gentner, 1989; Gentner, Rattermann, & Forbus, 1993; Holyoak & Koh, 1987; Holyoak & Thagard, 1989; Wharton, Holyoak, Downing, Lange, Wickens, & Melz, 1994; Wharton, Holyoak, & Lange, 1996). For instance, consider the classic analogy of "the atom is like the solar system." Although the atom and the solar system are quite different, the structural relations between the objects are similar in both domains as electrons circle the nucleus and planets circle the sun.

After similar relations are placed into correspondence, constructive use of the analogy may occur. Information can be transferred from a more complete source domain to a target domain missing that information. In other words, learners may use the source domain to generate inferences about the target domain. By generating these inferences, learners often gain a better understanding of the target domain than they would have without the analogy (Brown, 1989; Clement & Gentner, 1991; Clement & Yanowitz, 1999; Halpern, Hansen, & Reifer, 1990; Holyoak & Koh, 1987; Holyoak, Novick, & Melz, 1994; Markman, 1997; Novick, 1988). For instance, several recent studies examined students' understanding of various science concepts. All the studies followed the same general procedure in that some students read standard expository texts about the concepts, while other students read texts containing instructional analogies. Students who read the instructional analogies were more likely to demonstrate correct inferential reasoni ng about the science domain than students who read the standard texts (Donnelly & McDaniel, 1993; Halpern et al., 1990; Iding, 1993; McDaniel & Donnelly, 1996).

However, people may also generate inappropriate inferences during analogical reasoning. Even though two domains may be analogous, all of the information in the source domain may not be true about the target domain or should be transferred to the target domain. …

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