Mechanisms of spatial learning: Teaching children geometric categories

Linsey Smith, Raedy M. Ping, Bryan J. Matlen, Micah B. Goldwater, Dedre Gentner, Susan Levine

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Children's representations of geometric categories like triangles are often centered on a prototypical exemplar (e.g., an equilateral triangle). New cases are judged based on perceptual similarity to the prototype; such a strategy leads to systematic errors in categorization. Creating correct geometric categories requires children to move beyond a reliance on perceptual similarity and learn category-defining rules (e.g., a triangle is an enclosed, three-sided shape). In this research, we test whether a brief training experience using comparison could help three- and four-year-old children learn the category of triangle. Further, we ask whether different types of comparisons (within-category or between-category) support learning in distinct ways. The data indicate that both types of comparison fostered category learning, but that within-category comparisons promoted generalization to new exemplars whereas between-category comparisons reduced overgeneralization to non-exemplars. Furthermore, these effects were moderated by the perceptual similarity of the compared pairs. The results indicate that comparison can foster spatial category learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSpatial Cognition IX - International Conference, Spatial Cognition 2014, Proceedings
PublisherSpringer Verlag
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9783319112145
StatePublished - 2014
EventInternational Conference on Spatial Cognition IX, Spatial Cognition 2014 - Bremen, Germany
Duration: Sep 15 2014Sep 19 2014

Publication series

NameLecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics)
Volume8684 LNAI
ISSN (Print)0302-9743
ISSN (Electronic)1611-3349


OtherInternational Conference on Spatial Cognition IX, Spatial Cognition 2014


  • Analogy
  • Categorization
  • Comparison
  • Contrast
  • Education
  • Geometric Categories
  • Spatial Learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Computer Science(all)


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