Not taking the easy road: When similarity hurts learning

Hee Seung Lee, Shawn Betts, John R. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Two experimental studies examined the effects of example format and example similarity on mathematical problem solving across different learning contexts. Participants were more successful inducing a correct problem-solving rule when they were provided with annotated examples rather than nonannotated examples. The effects of example similarity varied depending on learning context. In Experiment 1, by presenting an example and problem simultaneously, a direct comparison was possible between the cases. When the examples were similar, participants relied on superficial analogies that hurt learning. When an example was dissimilar from the given problem, participants appeared to study the example first to induce a solution procedure and then apply the rule to the problem, thus resulting in better learning and transfer. However, in Experiment 2 where the example and problem were presented in a sequential manner, the effect disappeared because the learning context did not support a direct comparison. We conclude that comparison is not inherently good for promoting learning and transfer, rather its effect depends on whether it supports relational mapping that is essential for schema acquisition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)939-952
Number of pages14
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Aug 30

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Psychonomic Society, Inc.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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