The effects of relational structure on analogical learning

Daniel Corral, Matt Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Relational structure is important for various cognitive tasks, such as analogical transfer, but its role in learning of new relational concepts is poorly understood. This article reports two experiments testing people's ability to learn new relational categories as a function of their relational structure. In Experiment 1, each stimulus consisted of 4 objects varying on 2 dimensions. Each category was defined by two binary relations between pairs of objects. The manner in which the relations were linked (i.e., by operating on shared objects) varied between subjects, producing 3 logically different conditions. In Experiment 2, each stimulus consisted of 4 objects varying on 3 dimensions. Categories were defined by three binary relations, leading to six logically different conditions. Various learning models were compared to the behavioral data, based on the theory of schema refinement. The results highlight several shortcomings of schema refinement as a model of relational learning: (1) it can make unreasonable demands on working memory, (2) it does not allow schemas to grow in complexity, and (3) it incorrectly predicts learning is insensitive to relational structure. We propose schema elaboration as an additional mechanism that provides a more complete account, and we relate this mechanism to previous proposals regarding interactions between analogy and representation construction. The current findings may advance understanding of the cognitive mechanisms involved in learning and representing relational concepts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)280-300
Number of pages21
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Analogy
  • Relational category learning
  • Relational structure
  • Schema elaboration
  • Schema refinement
  • Structured representation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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