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Eye movements provide insight into individual differences in children's analogical reasoning strategies.


Analogical reasoning is considered a key driver of cognitive development and is a strong predictor of academic achievement. However, it is difficult for young children, who are prone to focusing on perceptual and semantic similarities among items rather than relational commonalities. For example, in a classic A:B::C:? propositional analogy task, children must inhibit attention towards items that are visually or semantically similar to C, and instead focus on finding a relational match to the A:B pair. Competing theories of reasoning development attribute improvements in children's performance to gains in either executive functioning or semantic knowledge. Here, we sought to identify key drivers of the development of analogical reasoning ability by using eye gaze patterns to infer problem-solving strategies used by six-year-old children and adults. Children had a greater tendency than adults to focus on the immediate task goal and constrain their search based on the C item. However, large individual differences existed within children, and more successful reasoners were able to maintain the broader goal in mind and constrain their search by initially focusing on the A:B pair before turning to C and the response choices. When children adopted this strategy, their attention was drawn more readily to the correct response option. Individual differences in children's reasoning ability were also related to rule-guided behavior but not to semantic knowledge. These findings suggest that both developmental improvements and individual differences in performance are driven by the use of more efficient reasoning strategies regarding which information is prioritized from the start, rather than the ability to disengage from attractive lure items.

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