Not taking the easy road: When similarity hurts learning

Hee Seung Lee, Shawn Betts, John R. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 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

Funding Information:
The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A100109 to Carnegie Mellon University and by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2014S1A5A8018026). We thank Abe Anderson and Aryn Pyke for valuable comments on the paper. Correspondence may be directed to Hee Seung Lee, Department of Education, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea (

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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