Expert Analogy Use in a Naturalistic Setting
Kretz, Donald R.
Krawczyk, Daniel C.
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The use of analogy is an important component of human cognition. The type of analogy we produce and communicate depends heavily on a number of factors, such as the setting, the level of domain expertise present, and the speaker's goal or intent. In this observational study, we recorded economics experts during scientific discussion and examined the categorical distance and structural depth of the analogies they produced. We also sought to characterize the purpose of the analogies that were generated. Our results supported previous conclusions about the infrequency of superficial similarity in subject-generated analogs, but also showed that distance and depth characteristics were more evenly balanced than in previous observational studies. This finding was likely due to the nature of the goals of the participants, as well as the broader nature of their expertise. An analysis of analogical purpose indicated that the generation of concrete source examples of more general target concepts was most prevalent. We also noted frequent instances of analogies intended to form visual images of source concepts. Other common purposes for analogies were the addition of colorful speech, inclusion (i.e., subsumption) of a target into a source concept, or differentiation between source and target concepts. We found no association between depth and either of the other two characteristics, but our findings suggest a relationship between purpose and distance; i.e., that visual imagery typically entailed an outside-domain source whereas exemplification was most frequently accomplished using within-domain analogies. Overall, we observed a rich and diverse set of spontaneously produced analogical comparisons. The high degree of expertise within the observed group along with the richly comparative nature of the economics discipline likely contributed to this analogical abundance.
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