The concept of similarity, or a sense of 'sameness' among things, is pivotal to theories in the cognitive sciences and beyond. Similarity, however, is a difficult thing to measure. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) is a tool by which researchers can obtain quantitative estimates of similarity among groups of items. More formally, MDS refers to a set of statistical techniques that are used to reduce the complexity of a data set, permitting visual appreciation of the underlying relational structures contained therein. The current paper provides an overview of MDS. We discuss key aspects of performing this technique, such as methods that can be used to collect similarity estimates, analytic techniques for treating proximity data, and various concerns regarding interpretation of the MDS output. MDS analyses of two novel data sets are also included, highlighting in step-by-step fashion how MDS is performed, and key issues that may arise during analysis. WIREs Cogn Sci 2013, 4:93-103. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1203 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Perception and Psychophysics.
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