Children's representation of abstract relations in relational/array match-to-sample tasks

Jean Rémy Hochmann, Arin S. Tuerk, Sophia Sanborn, Rebecca Zhu, Robert Long, Meg Dempster, Susan Carey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (SciVal)


Five experiments compared preschool children's performance to that of adults and of non-human animals on match to sample tasks involving 2-item or 16-item arrays that varied according to their composition of same or different items (Array Match-to-Sample, AMTS). They establish that, like non-human animals in most studies, 3- and 4-year-olds fail 2-item AMTS (the classic relational match to sample task introduced into the literature by Premack, 1983), and that robust success is not observed until age 6. They also establish that 3-year-olds, like non-human animal species, succeed only when they are able to encode stimuli in terms of entropy, a property of an array (namely its internal variability), rather than relations among the individuals in the array (same vs. different), whereas adults solve both 2-item and 16-item AMTS on the basis of the relations same and different. As in the case of non-human animals, the acuity of 3- and 4-year-olds’ representation of entropy is insufficient to solve the 2-item same-different AMTS task. At age 4, behavior begins to contrast with that of non-human species. On 16-item AMTS, a subgroup of 4-year-olds induce a categorical rule matching all-same arrays to all-same arrays, while matching other arrays (mixed arrays of same and different items) to all-different arrays. These children tend to justify their choices using the words “same” and “different.” By age 4 a number of our participants succeed at 2-item AMTS, also justifying their choices by explicit verbal appeals using words for same and different. Taken together these results suggest that the recruitment of the relational representations corresponding to the meaning of these words contributes to the better performance over the preschool years at solving array match-to-sample tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-43
Number of pages27
JournalCognitive Psychology
Early online date10 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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