Similarity- and Difference Oriented Similarity Comparisons

Ran Hassin,
Tel Aviv University, Israel.

Abstract Accumulating evidence suggests that similarity comparisons not only reflect a relation between the compared objects (or terms), but are themselves constructive processes that may create similarity. It is proposed here that such comparisons may be either similarity- or difference-oriented. In difference-oriented judgments, people tend to interpret ambiguous components of the compared objects in a manner that diminishes similarity, while in similarity-oriented judgments they tend to interpret those components in a way that emphasizes similarity. Thus, a change of the orientation of the comparison may lead to an entirely different representation of the given objects. This hypothesis was confirmed in a study with 60 undergraduates at Tel-Aviv University. Subjects were asked to make either similarity or difference judgments for pairs of drawn figures. Each pair contained an ambiguous figure (e.g., a duck-rabbit) and a very similar but non-ambiguous one (e.g., a rabbit). Subjects in the similarity condition exhibited a greater tendency to interpret the ambiguous object in light of the unambiguous one (i.e., as a rabbit) than subjects in the difference condition, and vice versa: those asked to make difference judgments tended to interpret the ambiguous figure in light of the complement interpretation (i.e., as a duck) more than the subjects who made similarity judgments.