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Cognition. 1998 Jan;65(2-3):263-97.

Similarity and the development of rules.

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Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


Similarity-based and rule-based accounts of cognition are often portrayed as opposing accounts. In this paper we suggest that in learning and development, the process of comparison can act as a bridge between similarity-based and rule-based processing. We suggest that comparison involves a process of structural alignment and mapping between two representations. This kind of structure-sensitive comparison process--which may be triggered either by experiential or symbolic juxtapositions--has a twofold significance for cognitive development. First, as a learning mechanism, comparison facilitates the grasp of structural commonalities and the abstraction of rules; and, second, as a mechanism for the application and extension of previously acquired knowledge, comparison processes facilitate the application of abstract knowledge to new instances.

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