Development of analogical Reasoning  


Building Blocks of Higher-Order Thinking

The ability to make connections between concepts (analogical reasoning) is an important element of children’s cognitive development. Analogical reasoning allows us to make inferences about new experiences, transfer learning across domains, and identify relevant information in a comparison. The Learning Lab seeks to understand the developmental mechanisms that enable analogical reasoning and how this ability is applied in a wide variety of contexts.

Experimental Work:

Our experimental work in the U.S. and abroad examines whether a child’s ability to successfully complete a reasoning task depends on his/her pre-existing knowledge of relationships in the domain, or on developmental capacities such as working memory and inhibitory control. The Scene Analogy task asks children to identify relational patterns between dissimilar subjects while ignoring irrelevant distracting information.  We find that children’s ability to attend to relevant relational structures decreases with the complexity of the relationship and with the presence of distracting irrelevant information.

Dr. Richland’s Scene Analogy Task and instructions are available. Please send your request to

For a brief summary of our recent findings, please view the following video produced by the National Science Foundation.

Computational Models:

To understand the interaction of processing capacities and relational knowledge in the scene analogy task, we modeled results from Richland, Chan, Morrison, and Au (2010) in two computational simulations: LISA (Learning and Interference with Schemas and Analogies; Hummel & Holyoak, 1997, 2003) and DORA (Discovery of Relations by Analogy; Doumas & Hummel, 2005 a; Doumas et al., 2008). These simulations led us to propose a model for how inhibitory control and relational knowledge acquisition interact within children's relational reasoning. Specifically, we model U.S. and cross-cultural data to suggest that increasing relational knowledge allows children to re-represent structured systems into more manageable relational groupings, thus reducing processing demands on working memory and leading children to successfully solve more complex analogies. In contrast, our models and data suggest that individual differences in inhibitory control are maturationally based and unrelated to relational knowledge acquisition.  For more on our cross cultural analogy work please see our International Use of Analogies page. 


Richland, L.E., Burchinal, M. (2013). Early executive function predicts reasoning development,

    Psychological Science. vol. 24 no. 1 87-92 [PDF]

Morrison, R.G., Leonidas Doumas, A.A., & Richland, L.E. (2010). A computational account of

    children’s analogical reasoning: Balancing inhibitory control in working memory and relational

    representation. Developmental Science. 14 (3), 516-529. [PDF]

Richland, L.E., Chan, T-K., Morrison, R.G., & Au, T. K-F (2010), Young children’s analogical reasoning

    across cultures: similarities and differences. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 105,    


Richland, L.E., Morrison, R.G., & Holyoak, K.J. (2006). Children’s development of analogical reasoning:

    Insights from scene analogy problems. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 94, 249–273. [PDF]

Morrison, R.G., Doumas, L.A.A., & Richland, L.E. (2006). The development of analogical reasoning in

    children: A computational account. In Proceedings of the Twenty-Eighth Annual Conference of the    

    Cognitive Science Society. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.  [PDF]

Research Funded By:

The National Science Foundation and the Spencer Foundation