Mechanisms of Spatial Learning: Teaching Children Geometric Categories

  • Linsey Smith
  • Raedy M. Ping
  • Bryan J. Matlen
  • Micah B. Goldwater
  • Dedre Gentner
  • Susan Levine
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 8684)


Children’s representations of geometric categories like triangles are often centered on a prototypical exemplar (e.g., an equilateral triangle). New cases are judged based on perceptual similarity to the prototype; such a strategy leads to systematic errors in categorization. Creating correct geometric categories requires children to move beyond a reliance on perceptual similarity and learn category-defining rules (e.g., a triangle is an enclosed, three-sided shape). In this research, we test whether a brief training experience using comparison could help three- and four-year-old children learn the category of triangle. Further, we ask whether different types of comparisons (within-category or between-category) support learning in distinct ways. The data indicate that both types of comparison fostered category learning, but that within-category comparisons promoted generalization to new exemplars whereas between-category comparisons reduced overgeneralization to non-exemplars. Furthermore, these effects were moderated by the perceptual similarity of the compared pairs. The results indicate that comparison can foster spatial category learning.


Spatial Learning Analogy Comparison Contrast Categorization Geometric Categories Education 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linsey Smith
    • 1
  • Raedy M. Ping
    • 2
  • Bryan J. Matlen
    • 1
  • Micah B. Goldwater
    • 3
  • Dedre Gentner
    • 1
  • Susan Levine
    • 2
  1. 1.Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.The University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.The University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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