Compare & Contrast Exercises

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Compare and contrast exercises require us to explain both how things are similar and how they are different. Learn more about compare and contrast exercises and Venn diagrams from the examples in this lesson.

How are Depression and Anxiety Alike?

Sarah is taking an introductory Psychology course. She has spent the week learning about the various mood disorders listed in her manual and learned about anxiety disorders the week prior.

On Friday, Sarah's professor splits the students up into five groups of three and hands them a piece of paper. Sarah's professor asks the students to list ways that depression and anxiety are alike. Sarah's group writes that:

  • both involve negative thinking or emotions
  • both can be debilitating
  • both have several common symptoms such as sleep problems, irritability, trouble concentrating, and fatigue

Sarah's professor then asks the students to list ways that depression and anxiety are different. Sarah's group makes a table:

Anxiety Depression
the major symptom is excessive worrying the major symptoms are decreased interest in activities and persistent sadness.
another symptom is avoidance another symptom is withdrawal
a patient often suffers a sense panic and fear a patient usually does not often suffer a sense panic and fear

Sarah and her group feel pretty good about their list and share it with the rest of the class. Sarah and her classmates have just completed a compare and contrast exercise.

What are Compare and Contrast Exercises?

Compare and contrast exercises are those that require us to examine how two or more topics are alike as well as how they are different.

Compare and contrast exercises require us to examine what our topics have in common and how our topics are different. Sarah and her classmates had to discuss both how their two topics were similar and how they were different.

If they would have only explored ways in which the topics were similar, it would have been a comparing exercise. When we compare topics, we are looking for ways in which two or more topics are the same.

If Sarah and her classmates would have only explored ways in which the topics were not alike, it would have been a contrasting exercise. When we contrast topics, we are looking for ways in which two or more topics are different.

Venn Diagrams

A common tool used in compare and contrast exercises is a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram, named after its creator, John Venn, is an organizational tool that consists of two or more circles that overlap and provide a visual representation of the relationship between two or more topics. Each of the topics is represented by a large circle. The part of the circle that overlaps is where we list what the topics have in common. The part of the circle that does not overlap is where we list how the topics differ.

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