Relational similarity and the nonindependence of features in similarity judgments

Goldstone, R. L., Medin, D. L., & Gentner, D. (1991). Relational similarity and the nonindependence of features in similarity judgments. Cognitive Psychology, 23, 222-264

Four experiments examined the hypothesis that simple attributional features and relational features operate differently in the determination of similarity judgements. Forced choice similarity judgments (“Is X or Y more similar to Z?”) and similarity rating tasks demonstrate that making the same featural change in two geometric stimuli unequally affects their judged similarity to a third stimulus (the comparison stimulus). More specifically, a featural change that causes stimuli to be more superficially similar and less relationally similar increases judged similarity if it occurs in stimuli that already share many superficial attributes, and decreases similarity if it occurs in stimuli that do not share as many superficial attributes. These results argue against an assumption of feature independence which asserts that the degree to which a feature shared by two objects affects similarity is independent of the other features shared by the objects. The MAX hypothesis is introduced, in which attributional and relational similarities are separately pooled, and shared features affect similarity more if the pool they are in is already relatively large. The results support claims that relations and attributes are psychologically distinct and that formal measures of similarity should not treat all types of matching features equally.

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