Analogy Lays the Foundation for Two Crucial Aspects of Symbolic Development: Intention and Correspondence

Lei Yuan*, David H. Uttal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We argue that analogical reasoning, particularly Gentner's (1983, 2010) structure-mapping theory, provides an integrative theoretical framework through which we can better understand the development of symbol use. Analogical reasoning can contribute both to the understanding of others’ intentions and the establishment of correspondences between symbols and their referents, two crucial components of symbolic understanding. We review relevant research on the development of symbolic representations, intentionality, comparison, and similarity, and demonstrate how structure-mapping theory can shed light on several ostensibly disparate findings in the literature. Focusing on visual symbols (e.g., scale models, photographs, and maps), we argue that analogy underlies and supports the understanding of both intention and correspondence, which may enter into a reciprocal bootstrapping process that leads children to gain the prodigious human capacity of symbol use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)738-757
Number of pages20
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2017


  • Analogy
  • Development
  • Intention
  • Representation
  • Structure-mapping theory
  • Symbol
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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