4- and 5-Year-Olds' Comprehension of Functional Metaphors

AbstractPrevious work suggests that children’s ability to understand metaphors emerges late in development. Researchers argue that children’s initial failure to understand metaphors is due to an inability to reason about shared relational structures between concepts. However, recent work demonstrates that causal framing facilitates preschoolers’ relational reasoning. Might causal framing also facilitate preschoolers’ metaphor comprehension? In Experiment 1, we presented 128 4- to 5-year-olds with a novel metaphor comprehension task, following a causal warm-up task, control warm-up task, or no warm-up task. In the novel comprehension task, preschoolers rated functional metaphors and nonsense statements as smart or silly, and provided explanations. Preschoolers ranked metaphors as “smarter” than nonsense statements, and a quarter of preschoolers provided functional explanations. There was no effect of warm-up tasks. In Experiment 2, we validated the metaphor comprehension task with adults. Overall, the current work presents a new paradigm that demonstrates preschoolers’ capacity to understand functional metaphors.

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