Comparison facilitates children's learning of names for parts

Dedre Gentner, Jeffrey Loewenstein, Barbara Hung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Learning names for parts of objects can be challenging for children, as it requires overcoming their tendency to name whole objects. We test whether comparing items can facilitate learning names for their parts. Applying the structure-mapping theory of comparison leads to two predictions: (a) young children will find it easier to identify a common part between two very similar items than between two dissimilar items (because the similar pair is easier to align); (b) close alignments potentiate far alignments: children will be better able to extend a novel part name to a dissimilar object after having extended it to a similar object. In three studies, 227 preschool children mapped novel part terms to new animals or objects. Both predictions were confirmed. Children more accurately extended novel part terms to objects that were similar to the standard than to objects that were dissimilar (Experiments 1 and 2), and children more accurately extended novel part names to dissimilar objects after having extended them to similar objects (Experiment 3). We conclude that structure-mapping processes can support part learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-307
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Cognition and Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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