Biography of Dedre Gentner

Dedre Gentner

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.

Gentner received a bachelor’s degree in physics from UC Berkeley, and a PhD in psychology from UCSD. As a student of Don Norman’s at San Diego, Dedre also worked with David Rumelhart, notably on topics related to verb meaning and representation. These interactions contributed not only to Dedre’s dissertation on possession verbs, but also to subsequent work on metaphor and analogy. Before joining the faculty at Northwestern, where she is currently Alice Gabrielle Twight Professor of Psychology and the director of the Cognitive Science Program, Gentner held positions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc, and the University of Washington. Gentner has been an active member of the Cognitive Science Society its beginning, first presenting a paper at the society’s third annual meeting in 1981, where she presented a paper titled: “Generative analogies as mental models.” She was president of the society from 1993-1994, became a society fellow in 2003, and has served on the governing board for several periods. Dedre Gentner was also associate editor of the society’s flagship journal, Cognitive Science, from 2001-2006.

Selected Publications

Gentner, D. (1981). Some interesting differences between nouns and verbs. Cognition and brain theory, 4, 161-178.

Gentner, D. (1983). Structure-mapping: A theoretical framework for analogy. Cognitive science, 7(2), 155-170.

Gentner, D., & Stevens, A. L. (1983). Mental models. Psychology Press.

Falkenhainer, B., Forbus, K. D., & Gentner, D. (1989). The structure-mapping engine: Algorithm and examples. Artificial intelligence, 41(1), 1-63.

Medin, D. L., Goldstone, R. L., & Gentner, D. (1993). Respects for similarity. Psychological review, 100(2), 254.

Markman, A. B., & Gentner, D. (1993). Structural alignment during similarity comparisons. Cognitive psychology, 25(4), 431-467.

Forbus, K. D., Gentner, D., & Law, K. (1995). MAC/FAC: A model of similarity‐based retrieval. Cognitive science, 19(2), 141-205.

Gentner, D., & Markman, A. B. (1997). Structure mapping in analogy and similarity. American psychologist, 52(1), 45.

Gentner, D., Holyoak, K. J., & Kokinov, B. N. (2001). The analogical mind: Perspectives from cognitive science. MIT press.

Gentner, D, & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2003). Language in mind: Advances in the study of language and thought. MIT Press.

Bowdle, B. F., & Gentner, D. (2005). The career of metaphor. Psychological review, 112(1), 193.

Loewenstein, J., & Gentner, D. (2005). Relational language and the development of relational mapping. Cognitive psychology, 50, 315-353.

Gentner, D. (2010). Bootstrapping the mind: Analogical processes and symbol systems. Cognitive science, 34 (5). 752-775.

Gentner, D., & Forbus, K. D. (2011). Computational models of analogy. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 2(3), 266-276.