Spatial language promotes cross-domain associations in early childhood


Spatial language is often used to describe other domains, including time (a long sound) and pitch (a high sound). How does experience with these metaphors shape the associations we make across domains? We tested English-speaking children and adults with a cross-domain matching task that assessed space-time and space-pitch mappings, using both spatial relations that are expressed in English-language metaphors and metaphors not employed in English. Participants performed a perceptual matching task that required matching pictures and sounds and a linguistic matching task that required matching pictures or sounds to labels. Adults readily matched across space-time and space-pitch pairings, using relations expressed both by familiar and unfamiliar metaphors. Children showed an advantage for linguistic compared to perceptual matching, but performance was similarly unaffected by metaphor familiarity. These results suggest that spatial language promotes the development of cross-domain associations, and that experience with particular metaphors is not required to produce this benefit.

Back to Table of Contents