Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Automatic Activation of Categorical and Abstract Analogical Relations in Analogical Reasoning

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Automatic Activation of Categorical and Abstract Analogical Relations in Analogical Reasoning

Article excerpt

We examined activation of concepts during analogical reasoning. Subjects made either analogical judgments or categorical judgments about four-word sets. After each four-word set, they named the ink color of a single word in a modified Stroop task. Words that referred to category relations were primed (as indicated by longer response times on Stroop color naming) subsequent to analogical judgments and categorical judgments. This finding suggests that activation of category concepts plays a fundamental role in analogical thinking. When colored words referred to analogical relations, priming occurred subsequent to analogical judgments, but not to categorical judgments, even though identical four-word stimuli were used for both types of judgments. This finding lends empirical support to the hypothesis that, when people comprehend the analogy between two items, they activate an abstract analogical relation that is distinct from the specific content items that compose the analogy.

Analogical reasoning has been regarded as a key component of intelligence (Sternberg, 1977), inductive reasoning (Holyoak & Thagard, 1997), and everyday discourse (Blanchette & Dunbar, 2002), as well as learning, understanding our environment, and generating novel ideas (Dunbar & Blanchette, 2001; Holyoak, 2005). In order to understand or generate an analogy, such as "a hand is to a glove as a foot is to a sock," a person must form a connection, called a mapping, between the abstract structure of one item or situation and the abstract structure of another item or situation. Mapping one structure onto another is based on forming one-to-one alignments between elements of the two structures (Gick & Holyoak, 1980; Markman & Gentner, 2000) as, in the example above, hand is aligned with foot and glove is aligned with sock. In the present investigation, we sought to identify the role of categorization (e.g., hand and foot are body parts; glove and sock are articles of clothing) as a mechanism for aligning terms in analogical mapping. Additionally, we sought to determine whether the mental representation of an analogical relation can be distinguished from the component terms that make up the analogy.

Categorization in Analogical Reasoning

Despite the importance of analogical thinking, several key questions remain regarding the mappings that tie analogous items together in the mind. One key question concerns the role of categorization in analogical mapping. Many researchers have suggested that categorization may be importantly related to analogical reasoning (Bowdle & Gentner, 2005; Gentner & Markman, 1997; Hesse, 1966; Holyoak & Thagard, 1997; Sternberg, 1977). Generally, analogy research has treated categorization as an end result of analogical reasoning. Gentner and Markman (1997), for example, argue that determining that two items or situations are analogous is an important criterion in deciding that the two entities are members of a common category.

A distinct, nonconflicting hypothesis is that categorization serves to align structural elements one-to-one so that analogical mapping can occur (Green, Fugelsang, Kraemer, Shamosh, & Dunbar, 2006). Similar notions have been suggested by other researchers. Gick and Holyoak (1983) noted that "mapped elements . . . are typically similar but not identical" (p. 6). Bassok and colleagues (Bassok, Chase, & Martin, 1998; Wisniewski & Bassok, 1999) demonstrated that categorically related items, such as apples and oranges, can be readily compared because category comembership makes them alignable with each other. However, empirical investigation has not yet been directed toward categorization as a possible mechanism for aligning component terms during analogical mapping.

To investigate this issue, we employed four-word analogies, a mainstay of academic and intelligence tests (Sternberg, 1977). Four-word analogies, such as the one composed by the word pairs hand:glove+foot:sock, have a consistent and readily decomposable structure. …

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