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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Providing explanations shifts preschoolers’ metaphor preferences


In order to learn from metaphors, children must not only be able to understand metaphors, but also appreciate their relative informativeness. Although functional metaphors based on abstract commonalities (e.g. “Eyes are windows”) allow for more learning than perceptual metaphors based on superficial commonalities (e.g. “Eyes are buttons”), previous research shows that preschoolers prefer perceptual metaphors over functional metaphors. In the present studies, we ask whether providing additional context can shift metaphor preferences in preschoolers and adults. Experiment 1 finds that pedagogical context increases preferences for functional metaphors in adults, but not preschoolers. Experiment 2 finds that providing explanations for conceptual similarities in a metaphor increases preschoolers’ preferences for functional metaphors. These findings suggest that providing explanations allows even preschoolers to appreciate the informativeness of functional metaphors.

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