How Similarity Shapes Diagrams

  • Merideth Gattis
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 2685)


Most diagrams communicate effectively despite the fact that diagrams as a group have a minium of conventions and a high tolerance for novelty. This paper proposes that the diversity and felicity of diagrammatic representation is based on three kinds of similarity between semantic propositions and spatial representations that allow people to interpret diagrams consistently with a minimum of effort and training. Iconicity is similarity of physical appearance, polarity is similarity in the positive and negative structure of dimensions, and relational similarity aligns structures so that elements correspond to elements, relations correspond to relations, and so on. In diagrammatic reasoning detected similarities are used to create correspondences between the visual characteristics of a diagram and its semantic meaning, and those correspondences are in turn used to make inferences about unknown or underspecified meanings.


Relational Structure Spatial Relation Diagrammatic Representation Mapping Pattern Physical Relation 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Merideth Gattis
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of SheffieldWestern Bank, SheffieldUK

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