Inductive Generalization in Early Childhood: The Contribution of Perceptual and Representational Similarity

Karrie GodwinCarnegie Mellon University
Anna FisherCarnegie Mellon University

Abstract

Inductive generalization is ubiquitous in human cognition; however, the factors underpinning this ability early in development remain contested. Two alternative perspectives have been proposed for how children make inductive inferences: a naïve theory account (Gelman & Markman, 1986; Markman, 1990) and a similarity-based account (Sloutsky & Fisher, 2004; 2012). Although both theories claim considerable empirical support, the debate is ongoing and results of extant studies are often deemed inconclusive. We report an experiment designed to evaluate the predictions of each account. In this study, 2- to 5-year-old children were asked to make inferences about highly familiar object categories. The reported findings are not fully consistent with either the naïve theory or the similarity-based approach. Therefore, we propose a revised version of the similarity-based account, which can account for the reported findings.

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