This Is Like That: The Use of Earlier Problems and the Separation of Similarity Effects

Brian H. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Novices attempting to solve a problem often are reminded of an earlier problem that illustrated a principle. Two experiments examined how these earlier problems are used and how this use is related to these remindings. Subjects studied four probability principles with related word problems. Test problems varied in their similarity to the study problems on story lines, objects, and correspondence of objects (variable roles). Experiment 1 tested whether remindings cue the principle or serve as the sources of detailed analogies. When the appropriate formula was provided with each test, the similarity of story lines had no effect, but object correspondences had a large effect. These results support an analogical account in which mapping is affected by the similarity of objects between study and test problems. Experiment 2 began to separate the aspects of similarity affecting the access and use of earlier problems by showing that, with confusable principles, similar story lines increased the access, but did not affect the use. The access appears to be sensitive to the relative similarity of examples because with distinctive principles, similar story lines had little effect. Discussion focuses on the further specification of the processes of noticing and analogical use of earlier problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)629-639
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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