Using Numbers to Structure Space

Dedre Gentner, Stella Christie

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


We investigated the claim that relational language promotes the development of relational reasoning (Gentner, 2003). Prior research has shown the benefit of spatial relational language (e.g. top, middle, bottom) in preschoolers’ performance in spatial mapping (Loewenstein and Gentner, 2005), suggesting that spatial relational language invites a delineated relational representation. We generalized this conclusion by testing the benefit of using nonspatial relational language in a spatial analogical task. Preschool children were presented with two identical three-tiered boxes, in which they watched an item being hidden in one box and were then asked to search for a similar item in the corresponding location at the second box. Half of the children heard a set of systematic terms conveying monotonic structure (1 2 3), whereas the other half of the children heard non-systematic terms consisting of names of familiar animals. Both sets of terms are familiar to preschoolers and neither directly denotes spatial locations. We found that preschool children who heard the 123 labels performed better than those who heard animal names. The results are evidence of young children’s sensitivity to the relational structure conveyed by language, and to their ability to apply this structure into a different domain.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
EditorsRon Sun, Naomi Miyake
Number of pages6
StatePublished - 2006


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