Revisiting Tversky’s diagnosticity principle

E.R.K. Evers, D. Lakens

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Similarity is a fundamental concept in cognition. In 1977, Amos Tversky published a highly influential feature-based model of how people judge the similarity between objects. The model highlights the context-dependence of similarity judgments, and challenged geometric models of similarity. One of the context-dependent effects Tversky describes is the diagnosticity principle. The diagnosticity principle determines which features are used to cluster multiple objects into subgroups. Perceived similarity between items within clusters is expected to increase, while similarity between items in different clusters decreases. Here, we present two pre-registered replications of the studies on the diagnosticity effect reported in Tversky (1977). Additionally, one alternative mechanism that has been proposed to play a role in the original studies, an increase in the choice for distractor items (a substitution effect, see Medin et al., 1995), is examined. Our results replicate those found by Tversky (1977), revealing an average diagnosticity-effect of 4.75%. However, when we eliminate the possibility of substitution effects confounding the results, a meta-analysis of the data provides no indication of any remaining effect of diagnosticity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number875
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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