Connecting instances to promote children’s relational reasoning

Son, J. Y., Smith, L. B., & Goldstone, R. L. (2011). Connecting instances to promote children’s relational reasoning.  Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 108, 260-277.

The practice of learning from multiple instances seems to allow children to learn about relational structure. The experiments reported here have focused on two issues regarding relational learning from multiple instances: (1) what kind of perceptual situations foster such learning and (2) how particular object properties, such as complexity or similarity, interact with relational learning. Two kinds of perceptual situations were of interest here: simultaneous view, where instances are viewed at once, and sequential view, instances are viewed one at a time, one right after the other. We examine the influence of particular perceptual situations and object properties using two tests of relational reasoning: a common match-to-sample task (where new instances are compared to a common sample) and a variable match-to-sample task (where new instances are compared to a sample that varies on each trial). Experiments 1 and 2 indicate that simultaneous presentation of even highly dissimilar instances, one simple and one complex, effectively connects them together and improves relational generalization in both match-to-sample tasks. Experiment 3 showed simple samples are more effective than complex ones in the common match-to-sample task. However, when one instance is not used a common sample and various pairs of instances are simply compared (Experiment 4), simple and rich instances are equally effective at promoting relational learning. These results bear on our understanding of how children connect instances and how those initial connections affect learning and generalization.

Download PDF version of this paper