The Role of Difference-Detection in Learning Contrastive Categories

Linsey SmithNorthwestern University
Dedre GentnerNorthwestern University

Abstract

Prior research has found that comparison fosters abstraction and transfer of concepts (e.g., categories, solution methods). These learning benefits are often explained by virtue of comparison’s ability to highlight common relational structure between cases. Here we explore the role of comparison in identifying critical differences. Participants compared contrastive cases, listed differences between them, and completed a classification task. We found that carrying out a structural alignment prior to listing differences influenced the kinds of differences people noticed. Further, the kinds of differences people noticed predicted their subsequent classification performance.

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