Beyond direct reference: Comparing the present to the past promotes abstract processing

David A. Kalkstein, Alexa D. Hubbard, Yaacov Trope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A primary way that people make sense of their experience is by comparing various objects within their immediate environment to each other and to previously encountered objects. The objects involved in a comparison can be stimuli that are present within one's immediate environment, or mental representations of previously encountered stimuli that are now absent from one's immediate environment. In this research, we propose that the comparison process unfolds differently depending on whether an individual is comparing stimuli that are simultaneously present within a given context or is comparing a target stimulus to a stored representation of a previously encountered source stimulus. Across two studies, we found that people engage in more abstract processing when comparing a present stimulus to a previously encountered source than when comparing two simultaneously present stimuli. We discuss the implications of these findings for the role of abstraction in comparison and memory-based reasoning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)933-938
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Abstraction
  • Analogical reasoning
  • Comparison
  • Memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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