Dedre Gentner

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Dedre Gentner
Bornc. 1944 (age 76–77)
Alma materUniversity of California, San Diego
Scientific career
InstitutionsNorthwestern University
ThesisEvidence for the Psychological Reality of Semantic Components (1974)

Dedre Dariel Anne Cooke Gentner (born c. 1944) is an American cognitive and developmental psychologist. She is the Alice Gabriel Twight Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University. She is a leading researcher in the study of analogical reasoning.[1]


She is a leading researcher in the study of analogical reasoning. She developed the structure-mapping theory of analogy and similarity,[2] which has wide application. As her APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award [3] citation (2016) states: “For achievements in research and theory in cognitive psychology and cognitive development, especially for developing the structure-mapping theory of analogy and similarity, for highlighting and elucidating analogy as a central learning mechanism and for describing and explaining the development and role of relational language. These ideas are vital underpinnings of a science of learning, fostering the creation of powerful learning tools that build on foundational human thinking skills and enabling new insights into human development.” [4] Her work on structure-mapping theory was foundational for the development of the structure mapping engine by Ken Forbus.[5] This involves the mapping of knowledge from one domain into another or from the base to the target for the purpose of guiding reasoning, to develop conjectures, and to generalize experiences into abstract schema.[6] Gentner also maintained that this theory of analogy can be used to model other subprocesses in analogical reasoning.[7] She also coined the kind world hypothesis, claiming that superficial properties usually tell a lot about the structural features of the object: "If something looks like a tiger, it probably is a tiger". For this reason, she argued that due to the environment in which humans have evolved, risk avoidance became a top priority so that the cost of missing a truly deep analogy is preferable than the risk of overlooking a real danger.[8]

Gentner has contributed in developing a sophisticated model of analogy use - the manner by which new situations are dealt with through adaptation based on previous experiences or similar situation that transpired in the past.[9]

Gentner's contributions to cognitive theory are in three arenas: analogy (including similarity and metaphor);[10][11][12][13][14] language development;[15][16] and interactions between language and cognition.[17][18][19][20]

Gentner was awarded the 2016 Rumelhart Prize for Contributions to the Theoretical Foundations of Human Cognition. Her Rumelhart Prize commendation[21] states “Dr. Dedre Gentner, the recipient of the 2016 Rumelhart Prize, personifies the success of Cognitive Science as an interdisciplinary enterprise, tackling foundational questions about the mind through the seamless integration of psychological theory, empirical methodology, and computational insight. The resulting work has shaped our understanding of learning, reasoning, language, and the very nature of mental representation.

Gentner has made important contributions to the study of verbs, mental models, similarity, language and thought, as well as word learning in children. Underlying this diverse body of work is a common thread: an interest in how it is that we can represent and reason about relationships, such as that between the arguments of a relational predicate, or between two models that are superficially distinct, yet share common underlying structure. It's not surprising, then, that this year's recipient has also been a pioneer in the contemporary study of analogical reasoning, and it is this work for which she is best known.

Gentner has influenced the field not only through her prolific experimental work with both children and adults, but also for the general theory of analogical reasoning that she developed and tested alongside students and collaborators: Structure Mapping Theory. A central insight of this theory is that analogies consist of matching relational structures between a base domain and a target domain. The properties of objects in the domains need not match, and deeply nested relational structures are favored over independent relations. In the analogy between heat flow and water flow, for example, the relevant similarities involve a flow of some quantity from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure, even though the domains differ in many superficial respects. This theory was implemented in the Structure-Mapping Engine (SME), which both formalized the theory and offered a computationally-tractable algorithm for carrying out the process of mapping structures and drawing inferences.

Gentner's work has not been restricted to analogical reasoning, however, and her influential edited volumes – on mental models in 1983, on analogical reasoning in 2001, and on language and thought in 2003, attest to the breadth of her interests and impact.”

Early life and education[edit]

Gentner was born in San Diego, California. She received her bachelor's degree in physics from UC Berkeley during the 1970s and did graduate work in physics at the University of Chicago, before discovering the field of cognitive psychology. After a year studying cognitive science at U. Chicago, Gentner taught first grade for two years in Ghana, sparking an enduring interest in cognitive development. She then entered the graduate program at UC San Diego working with Don Norman and David Rumelhart, receiving her PhD in 1974. She taught at the University of Washington, served as Research Scientist at Bolt Beranek and Newman, and taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before joining Northwestern University in 1990, her current position. Gentner co-founded Northwestern's Cognitive Science Program and the Undergraduate Major in Cognitive Science in 1991-92 and was Director of the Cognitive Science Program from 1991 to 2015. During this time the Program grew to over 100 faculty, spanning Psychology, Linguistics, Philosophy, Artificial Intelligence, Learning Science, Neuroscience, Anthropology, Communication Sciences and Disorders, and Music Cognition.

Awards and fellowships[edit]

Gentner received an Alexander von Humboldt Research Award in 2011.[22] She received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychology Association in 2016.[23] That same year, she was awarded the 2016 Rumelhart Prize for Contributions to the Theoretical Foundations of Human Cognition.[24] She is a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society, the American Association for Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science,[25] the Cognitive Development Society, and the Society for Experimental Psychology. She has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University (1999-2000), at the Rockefeller Institute in Bellagio, Italy (2006), and at the Humboldt Foundation (Delmenhorst, Germany).[26]


The following are in-print books by Gentner; see her home page for further publications.

  • The Analogical Mind: Perspectives from Cognitive Science by Dedre Gentner (Editor), Keith J. Holyoak (Editor), Boicho Kokinov (Editor), ISBN 0-262-57139-0
  • Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and Thought, by Dedre Gentner (Editor), Susan Goldin-Meadow (Editor), ISBN 0-262-57163-3
  • Mental Models (Cognitive Science (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates).), by Albert L. Stevens, Dedre Gentner, ISBN 0-89859-242-9
  • Proceedings Thirteenth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, by Cognitive Science Society, Kristian J. Hammond (Editor), Dedre Gentner (Editor), ISBN 0-8058-1138-9

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Biography of Dedre Gentner". The David E. Rumelhart Prize For Contributions to the Theoretical Foundations of Human Cognition. Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  2. ^ Gentner, D. (1983). Structure-mapping: A theoretical framework for analogy. Cognitive Science, 7, 155-170.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions: Dedre Gentner (2016). American Psychologist, 71(8), 646–649.
  5. ^ Falkenhainer, B., Forbus, K. D., & Gentner, D. (1989). The structure-mapping engine: Algorithm and examples. Artificial Intelligence, 41, 1-63.
  6. ^ Pereira, Francisco Câmara (2007). Creativity and Artificial Intelligence: A Conceptual Blending Approach. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 69. ISBN 9783110186093.
  7. ^ Vosniadou, Stella; Ortony, Andrew (1989). Similarity and Analogical Reasoning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 197. ISBN 0521362954.
  8. ^ Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Volume 66. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press. 2017. p. 20. ISBN 9780128121184.
  9. ^ Thagard, Paul (2005). Mind: Introduction to Cognitive Science, Second Edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 77. ISBN 0262201542.
  10. ^ Gentner, D. (1983). Structure-mapping: A theoretical framework for analogy. Cognitive Science, 7, 155-170.
  11. ^ Falkenhainer, B., Forbus, K. D., & Gentner, D. (1989). The structure-mapping engine: Algorithm and examples. Artificial Intelligence, 41, 1-63
  12. ^ Forbus, K. D., Gentner, D., & Law, K. (1995). MAC/FAC: A model of similarity‐based retrieval. Cognitive Science, 19(2), 141-205.
  13. ^ Gentner, D., & Markman, A. B. (1997). Structure mapping in analogy and similarity. American Psychologist, 52(1), 45.
  14. ^ Bowdle, B. F., & Gentner, D. (2005). The career of metaphor. Psychological Review, 112(1), 193.
  15. ^ Gentner, D. (1982). Why nouns are learned before verbs: Linguistic relativity versus natural partitioning. In S. A. Kuczaj (Ed.), Language development: Vol. 2. Language, thought and culture (pp. 301-334). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  16. ^ Gentner, D., & Boroditsky, L. (2001). Individuation, relativity and early word learning. In M. Bowerman & S. Levinson (Eds.), Language acquisition and conceptual development (pp. 215-256). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  17. ^ Loewenstein, J., & Gentner, D. (2005). Relational language and the development of relational mapping. Cognitive Psychology, 50, 315-353.
  18. ^ Gentner, D. (2010). Bootstrapping the mind: Analogical processes and symbol systems. Cognitive Science, 34(5), 752-775.
  19. ^ Christie, S. & Gentner, D. (2014). Language helps children succeed on a classic analogy task. Cognitive Science, 38, 383-397.
  20. ^ Jamrozik, A. & Gentner, D. (2019). Relational labeling unlocks inert knowledge. Cognition, 196, 104146. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104146
  21. ^ [2]
  22. ^
  23. ^ Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions: Dedre Gentner (2016). American Psychologist, 71(8), 646–649.
  24. ^ [3]
  25. ^
  26. ^

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