Varieties of sameness: The impact of relational complexity on perceptual comparisons

James K. Kroger, Keith J. Holyoak, John E. Hummel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The fundamental relations that underlie cognitive comparisons-"same" and "different"-can be defined at multiple levels of abstraction, which vary in relational complexity. We compared response times to decide whether or not two sequentially-presented patterns, each composed of two pairs of colored squares, were the same at three levels of abstraction: perceptual, relational, and system (higher order relations). For both 150 ms and 5 s inter-stimulus intervals (ISIs), both with and without a masking stimulus, decision time increased with level of abstraction. Sameness at lower complexity levels contributed to decisions based on the higher levels. The pattern of comparison times across levels was not predictable solely from encoding times. The results indicated that relations at multiple levels of complexity can be abstracted and compared in working memory, with higher complexity levels requiring more processing time. We simulated the impact of relational complexity on response time using Learning and Inference with Schemas and Analogies (LISA), a computational model of relational comparisons based on dynamic binding of elements into roles in a relational working memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-358
Number of pages24
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Executive control
  • Perception
  • Reasoning
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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