More evidence for a relational shift in the development of analogy: Children's performance on a causal-mapping task

Mary Jo Rattermann*, Dedre Gentner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

198 Scopus citations


Gentner (1988) has proposed a relational shift whereby children interpret analogy and metaphor first in terms of object similarity and then in terms of relational similarity. Goswami (1996) argues against the relational shift hypothesis, citing as evidence a study performed by Goswami and Brown (1989) in which 3-, 4-, and 6-year-old children were able to correctly complete pictorial A:B::C:? analogies based on familiar causal relations, and, contrary to the predictions of the relational shift hypothesis, made very few object-similarity errors despite the presence of an object-similarity choice. In the present experiment we obtained similarity ratings of Goswami and Brown's stimuli and found that the materials did not contain a true object similarity choice and therefore that study was not an adequate test of the relational shift hypothesis. After appropriate modifications to their methodology, we found that 4- and 5-year-old children's performance was consistent with the relational shift hypothesis: First, object-similarity errors were highly frequent initially and decreased with age; second, the rate of relational (correct) responding increased with age; and third, performance on the analogues was positively related to children's knowledge about the participating causal relations. We conclude by proposing an explanation for the relational shift based on an alignment view of similarity comparison and, further, suggest a new role for object similarity in children's analogical development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-478
Number of pages26
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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