Developmental changes in children's understanding of the similarity between photographs and their referents

David H. Uttal*, Dedre Gentner, Linda L. Liu, Alison R. Lewis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


In a series of three experiments, we investigated the development of children's understanding of the similarities between photographs and their referents. Based on prior work on the development of analogical understanding (e.g. Gentner & Rattermann, 1991), we suggest that the appreciation of this relation involves multiple levels. Photographs are similar to their referents both in terms of the constituent objects and in terms of the relations among these objects. We predicted that children would appreciate object similarity (whether photographs depict the same objects as in the referent scene) before they would appreciate relational similarity (whether photographs depict the objects in the same spatial positions as in the referent scene). To test this hypothesis, we presented 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, and 7-year-old children and adults with several candidate photographs of an arrangement of objects. Participants were asked to choose which of the photographs was 'the same' as the arrangement. We manipulated the types of information the photographs preserved about the referent objects. One set of photographs did not preserve the object properties of the scene. Another set of photographs preserved the object properties of the scene, but not the relational similarity, such that the original objects were depicted but occupied different spatial positions in the arrangement. As predicted, younger children based their choices of the photographs largely on object similarity, whereas older children and adults also took relational similarity into account. Results are discussed in terms of the development of children's appreciation of different levels of similarity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-170
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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