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Analogical Reasoning

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Guido F. Schauer
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Analogical reasoning—the ability to understand and utilize relational similarities between entities despite surface-level differences—helps individuals solve problems and navigate through novel situations. This ability varies across healthy and clinical populations, yet current analogical reasoning tasks often fail to capture subtle performance variations across different populations. To address this problem, we developed the Similar Situations Task (SST), in which participants are presented 48 line-art scene analogy problems, with source and target scenes presented separately. In each source, two sets of items (humans, animals, or objects) interact in distinct areas within the scene. One or two arrows direct participants to encode and remember specific items and their relational roles. In each target, two matching items interact analogously to one set of items in the source, while two distractor items interact in a superficially similar manner to the alignable items. Participants are tasked with determining which item, if any, is in a similar situation as one of those pointed to in the source. SST problems were found to be reliable measures of performance and presented a range of challenges for both college students and chronic-phase traumatic brain injury patients. Moreover, SST performance correlated with neuropsychological cognitive measures, but notably did not correlate with measures of verbal working memory or intelligence. The SST appears to be a sensitive, reliable, and realistic test of analogical reasoning that captures the ability to discern analogous relations and roles across different situations. Importantly, SST results suggest this ability may be independent of other cognitive capacities.