Generalization of novel names for relations in comparison settings: the role of conceptual distance during learning and at test.

AbstractRelational categories are notoriously difficult to learn. We studied the impact of comparison on relational concept learning with a novel word learning task in 3- and 4-year olds. We contrasted a no-comparison (single) condition and two comparison conditions. In the latter case, the set of learning pairs was composed of either close or far pairs (e.g., close pair: knife1- watermelon, knife2-orange; far pair: ax-evergreen tree, saw-log, for the “cutter for” relation). We also manipulated the transfer stimuli semantic distance (near or distant semantic domain, e.g., a scissor for a piece of paper in the close case, and a shaver for a face in the far domain case). The no-comparison condition led to random generalizations in the younger group only. Overall the close learning condition and the near transfer condition led to good performance. We discuss these results in terms of the role of semantic distance and how participants integrate stimuli depending on distance.

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