A functional model of similarity

Whalley, Peter C. (1984). A functional model of similarity. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d661


In the first chapters, the prevalent conception of the nature of similarity is shown to be too narrow, and the argument is developed that models of similarity must encompass both analytic and synthetic components. Some general problems of measurement and the testing of psychological models are also discussed.

A review of the philosophical treatment of the concept of similarity is made in order to understand the origins of the models found in the present psychological literature. These are then analysed in terms of their implicit object representations and cognitive processes. The distinction between the'class inclusion' and 'distance relation' models of similarity is shown tobe qualitative in nature, and to correspond to the analytic-synthetic distinction in terms of cognitive process.

A functional model of the psychological processes and object representations involved in similarity judgements is then proposed. The fundamental idea involved in this model is that the global properties of referents are synthetically evaluated in terms of their contextual relations, whilst an analytic 'pattern matching' of local properties is made. Various theoretical aspects of the model are examined experimentally, and its general applicability is indicated in a series of applied studies.

The scope of the argument is finally broadened to encompass a development of Torgerson's (196.5) conception of the nature of the dimensions resulting from MDS analysis. Dimensions may be considered as 'virtual' artifacts of the experimental task and the individual's conception of it. This possibility allows the methodology to escape the dominating influence of its psychophysical tradition, and become a conceptually deeper tool for cognitive psychology.

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