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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Preschoolers and adults make inferences from novel metaphors


Historically, metaphors have facilitated creative change across multiple disparate domains. Similarly, human adults use metaphors to guide their everyday thinking and reasoning. While previous research in cognitive development has demonstrated that preschoolers understand metaphors, less is known about how preschoolers might learn from metaphors. The current experiments investigate whether preschoolers can use novel metaphors to make additional inferences about artifacts. Experiment 1 demonstrates that both four-year-olds and adults who hear novel positive and negative metaphors (e.g., “Daxes are clouds. Daxes are not suns.”) can form additional inferences based on these metaphor (e.g., that daxes let out water rather than light up). Experiment 2 conceptually replicates this result using a modified paradigm with only positive metaphors (e.g., “Daxes are clouds”). Taken together, these findings suggest that children can not only understand, but also learn from, metaphors. Consequently, metaphors may be a powerful learning mechanism in both adulthood and early childhood.

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