# Making a Silk Purse Out of Two Sow s Ears: Young Children s Use of Comparison in Category Learning

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5 A Standard 1 Perceptual Match J COMPARSON AND CATEGORY LEARNNG Standard 2 1 r 3 Standard 1 Perceptual Malch r!! 1 Standard ,- Category Match Catezorv Match Figure 1. Sample stimulus sets. A: One-kind condition in Experiment 1 (and both conditions in Experiment 2). B: Two-kind condition in Experiment 1. picted. Children s names for the stimuli were evaluated by a rater blind to the experimental condition. All children tested met our inclusion criterion of providing an accurate label, synonym, or functional description for at least 35 of the 40 cards in the stimulus set viewed by the child (each child viewed only two of the three standards, resulting in a set of 40 out of 50 cards viewed by each child). Results We compared the proportion of trials on which children selected the category match in each condition. As predicted, the influence of comparison depended on the type of commonalities shared by the two exemplars. Children in the one-kind condition (M = 0.69, SD = 0.24) selected the category match significantly more often than those in the two-kind condition (M = 0.35, SD = 0.24), as illustrated by t tests using both participants (p) and items (i) as random factors, tj22) = 3.47, p <.01, ti(9) = 4.38, p <.O]. Children s performance on individual stimulus sets is outlined in Table 2. Children in the one-kind condition selected the category alternatives significantly more often than predicted by chance rates (chance = SO), tp( 11) = 2.73, p <.05, ti(9) = 4.12, p <.01. Children in the two-kind condition performed marginally below chance in their selection of the category alternatives, tp( 11) = 2.17, p =.05, ti(9) = 2.33, p <.05. That is, when two members of a taxonomic category were given a common label, children predominantly selected the category match over a tempting perceptual match. However, when a common label was applied to two perceptually similar objects from discrepant object categories, children selected the perceptual match on 65% of trials. We performed two additional analyses to explore these effects further. First, we examined individual children s patterns of performance in each condition. f the binomial formula is used with a total of 10 trials, an individual child must select the category match on at least 8 of the 10 trials to be reliably above chance. We found that 6 of the 12 children in the one-kind condition selected category matches at a rate that met or exceeded chance, whereas only 1 of the 12 children in the two-kind condition performed above chance. The difference between the two conditions was reliable according to the Fisher s exact test ( p =.03). This suggests that the group differences reflect reliably different response patterns across individual participants within the two conditions. Second, we examined an alternative explanation of our findings. Perhaps children selected category members more often in the one-kind than in the two-kind condition because they already possessed a lexical item for the category depicted in the one-kind condition. f so, children may simply have performed some sort of translation process, interpreting blicket as fruit for example, and then selecting another object that fell into the fruit category, without actually performing any sort of alignment. Fortunately, our stimuli allowed us to test this hypothesis, because there were some categories for which children were likely to have a lexical item, but others (such as Set 8-a bicycle, a tricycle, and a skateboard-that might be described as nonmotorized modes of transportation or things you can ride around on ) did not lend themselves easily to a translation process. By comparing performance of children in the one-kind condition on stimulus sets for which they were and were not likely to have pre-existing lexical items, we were able to gauge whether translation benefited the one-kind participants. Using a conservative criterion, we identified three sets for which we suspected preschoolers were unlikely to have pre-existing labels: Sets 3 (dishware), 8 (things to ride on), and 10 (sporting equipment; see Table 1). The remaining sets were ones for which children may have had a unifying label, although they were clearly more likely to have a unifying label for some of the sets (such as / 9

6 10 NAMY AND GENTNER Table 1 Stimuli Used in Experiment Standard stimuli Choice alternative Stimulus set Perceptual Taxonomic 1. Fruit Apple Pear Lightbulb Balloon Banana 2. Balls Beach ball Baseball Ornament Orange Football 3. Dishware Plate Bowl CD Cookie Casserole dish 4. Musical instruments Drum Rounded lyre Cake Bucket Flute 5. Vegetables Carrot Corn Fish Rocket Turnip 6. Sweets ce cream Lollipop Bubble wand Top Candy bar 7. Hats Top hat Stovepipe hat Candle Soda can Baseball cap 8. Things to ride on Bicycle Tricycle Dumbbell Glasses Skateboard 9. Animals Caterpillar Snake Be!t Rope Turtle 10. Sporting equipment Baseball bat Golf club Knife Pencil Tennis racket Set 2: balls) than for others (such as Set 4: musical instruments). This analysis yielded no effect of potential labels on performance, t( 1 1) = 0.53, ns. Children in the one-kind condition selected the category match on an average of 0.68 (SD = 0.20) trials for those objects that they might potentially lexicalize and 0.72 (SD = 0.40) trials for those items that they were unlikely to lexicalize. Thus, it does not appear that children s performance in the one-kind condition was mediated by translation from the novel label to a known label for the target category depicted. Discussion The outcome of this experiment serves to specify and delineate the comparison effect. t provides support for the argument that comparison invokes an alignment process that promotes attention to commonalities. n both conditions, providing a common label for two perceptually similar objects invited alignment, but the results of this process differed by condition. n the one-kind condition, perceptual similarity was allied with conceptual similarity, and the alignment process highlighted the deeper relational commonalities depicted in the category match. n contrast, children in the two-kind condition found themselves on a dead-end street. They were only able to derive perceptual commonalities Table 2 Proportion of Children s Taxonomic Responses for Each Set, in Each Condition in Experiment 1 Condition Stimulus set One kind Two kind Fruit Balls Dishware Musical instruments Vegetables sweets Hats Things to ride on Animals Sporting equipment M SO 1.O so O SO because there were no deeper relational commonalities to be found. n the next experiment, we tested another key tenet of our theory. We had postulated that common labels invite the comparison process. Our first hint that common labels invite alignment was the data reported by Gentner and Namy (1999), in which we compared the facilitative effects of comparison when we labeled the two standards with the effects of comparison when the standards were explicitly compared but not labeled. Results indicated that the effect of comparison on performance was more robust in the presence of a label than when the standards were compared but not labeled. This finding suggests that providing the same name for two standards invites children to compare them. There was, however, an overall (albeit weaker) effect of comparison in the nolabel condition as well. n the present study, we made an additional prediction that followed from the claim that labels invite alignment; namely, that giving the two standards different names should diminish any impulse to seek commonalities. Thus, whereas applying common labels should invite structural alignment and enhance the beneficial effects of comparison, applying different labels to the two standards should inhibit comparison processes, preventing the children from benefiting from the availability of two standards. n Experiment 2, we explicitly tested this claim. We contrasted children s performance when two members of a target category were given a common label (as in the one-kind condition) with children s performance when the same two exemplars were labeled with two different words. f labeling plays an important role in inviting alignment, then alignment should be facilitated in the first case and inhibited in the second. We predicted that, as in the one-kind condition in Experiment 1, children given a common label for both exemplars would systematically select the category match. n contrast, when the two standards are given two different labels, it is possible that children could respond randomly out of confusion. However, we thought it more likely that one of two processes would occur: (a) children would focus on just one standard, ignoring the other, in which case the novel word would be extended to the perceptual alternative (as in Gentner & Namy, 1999) or (b) more speculatively, children would engage in alignment (because of the salient perceptual commonalities between the two standards) but terminate the alignment at an early stage (because of the conflicting labels), leading them to attend to

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11 COMPARSON AND CATEGORY LEARNNG 15 Markman, E. M. (1989). Categorization aiid naming iiz children: Problems of induction. Cambridge, MA: MT Press. Markman, E. M., & Hutchinson, J. (1984). Children s sensitivity to constraints on word meaning: Taxonomic versus thematic relations. Cognitive Psychology, 16, Medin, D. L., Goldstone, R. L., & Gentner, D. (1993). Respects for similarity. Psychological Revieki, 100, Oakes, L. M. (2001, April). The role of comparisorz in caregoiy.fomzation in irlfaizcy. Paper presented at the 68th Anniversary Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Minneapolis, MN. Pulvermueller, F. (1 999). Words in the brain s language. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 22, Rakison, D. H., & Butterworth, G. E. (1998). nfants use of object parts in early categorization. Developmental Psychology, 34, Ross, B. H., & Spalding, T. L. (1991). Some influences of instance comparisons on concept formation. n D. H. Fisher, Jr., M. J. Pazzani, & P. Langley (Eds.), Concept formation: Knowledge and experience in unsupervised learning (pp ). San Mateo, CA: Kaufmann. Smith, L. B., Jones, S. S., & Landau, B. (1992). Count nouns, adjectives, and perceptual properties in children s novel word interpretations. Developmental Psychology, 28, Tomikawa, S. A., & Dodd, D. H. (1980). Early word meanings: Perceptually or functionally based? Child Development, 51, f09. Ward, T. B., Vela, E., Peery, M. L., Lewis, S. N., Bauer, N. K., & Mint, K. A. (1989). What makes a vibble a vibble? A developmental study of category generalization. Child Development, 60, Waxman, S. R. (1999). Specifying the scope of 13-month-olds expectations for novel words. Cognition, 70, B35-B50. Waxman, S. R., & Gelman, R. (1986). Preschoolers use of superordinate level relations in classification and language. Cognitive Development,, Waxman, S. R., & Klibanoff, R. S. (2000). The role of comparison in the extension of novel adjectives. Developrnerztal Psychology, 36, Waxman, S. R., & Kosowski, T. (1990). Nouns mark category relations: Toddlers and preschoolers word-learning biases. Child Developnient, 61, Wolff, P., & Gentner, D. (2000). Evidence for role-neutral initial processing of metaphors. Journal of Experimental Psyclzology: Learning, Memory, and Cognitiorz, 26, Received April 26, 2000 Revision received June 1, 2001 Accepted August 1, 2001

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