Language Helps Children Succeed on a Classic Analogy Task



Adult humans show exceptional relational ability relative to other species. In this research, we trace the development of this ability in young children. We used a task widely used in comparative research—the relational match-to-sample task, which requires participants to notice and match the identity relation: for example, AA should match BB instead of CD. Despite the simplicity of this relation, children under 4 years of age failed to pass this test (Experiment 1), and their performance did not improve even with initial feedback (Experiment 2). In Experiments 3 and 4, we found that two kinds of symbolic-linguistic experience can facilitate relational reasoning in young children. Our findings suggest that children learn to become adept analogical thinkers, and that language fosters this learning in at least two distinct ways.