This research investigates the development of analogy: In particular, we wish to study the development of systematicity in analogy. Systematicity refers to the mapping of systems of mutually constraining relations, such as causal chains or chains of implication. A preference for systematic mappings is a central aspect of analogical processing in adults (Gentner, 1980, 1983). This research asks two questions: Does systematicity make analogical mapping easier? And, if so, when, developmentally, do children become able to utilize systematicity?

Children aged 5–7 and 8–10 acted out stories with toy characters. Then they were asked to act out the same stories with new characters. Two variables were manipulated: systematicity, or the degree of explicit causal structure in the original stories, and the transparency of the object-mappings. Transparency was manipulated by varying the similarity between the original characters and the corresponding new characters: it was included in order to vary the difficulty of the transfer task. If children can utilize systematicity, then their transfer accuracy should be greater for systematic stories.

The results show: (1) As expected, transparency strongly influenced transfer accuracy (for both age groups, transfer accuracy dropped sharply as the object correspondences became less transparent); and (2) for the older group, there was also a strong effect of systematicity and an interaction between the two variables. Given a systematic story, 9-year-olds could transfer it accurately regardless of the transparency of the object correspondence.