Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 July 2008
The development of analogical reasoning has traditionally been understood in terms of theories of adult competence. This approach emphasizes structured representations and structure mapping. In contrast, we argue that by taking a developmental perspective, analogical reasoning can be viewed as the product of a substantially different cognitive ability – relational priming. To illustrate this, we present a computational (here connectionist) account where analogy arises gradually as a by-product of pattern completion in a recurrent network. Initial exposure to a situation primes a relation that can then be applied to a novel situation to make an analogy. Relations are represented as transformations between states. The network exhibits behaviors consistent with a broad range of key phenomena from the developmental literature, lending support to the appropriateness of this approach (using low-level cognitive mechanisms) for investigating a domain that has normally been the preserve of high-level models. Furthermore, we present an additional simulation that integrates the relational priming mechanism with deliberative controlled use of inhibition to demonstrate how the framework can be extended to complex analogical reasoning, such as the data from explicit mapping studies in the literature on adults. This account highlights how taking a developmental perspective constrains the theory construction and cognitive modeling processes in a way that differs substantially from that based purely on adult studies, and illustrates how a putative complex cognitive skill can emerge out of a simple mechanism.