Analogical Comparison Promotes Theory-of-Mind Development

Christian Hoyos, William S. Horton, Nina K. Simms, Dedre Gentner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Theory-of-mind (ToM) is an integral part of social cognition, but how it develops remains a critical question. There is evidence that children can gain insight into ToM through experience, including language training and explanatory interactions. But this still leaves open the question of how children gain these insights—what processes drive this learning? We propose that analogical comparison is a key mechanism in the development of ToM. In Experiment 1, children were shown true- and false-belief scenarios and prompted to engage in multiple comparisons (e.g., belief vs. world). In Experiments 2a, 2b, and 3, children saw a series of true- and false-belief events, varying in order and in their alignability. Across these experiments, we found that providing support for comparing true- and false-belief scenarios led to increased performance on false-belief tests. These findings show that analogical comparison can support ToM learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12891
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Analogy
  • Comparison
  • False beliefs
  • Relational processing
  • Theory-of-mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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