Spatial metaphor and the development of cross-domain mappings in early childhood.

Spatial language is often used metaphorically to describe other domains, including time (long sound) and pitch (high sound). How does experience with these metaphors shape the ability to associate space with other domains? Here, we tested 3- to 6-year-old English-speaking children and adults with a cross-domain matching task. We probed cross-domain relations that are expressed in English metaphors for time and pitch (length-time and height-pitch) as well as relations that are unconventional in English but expressed in other languages (size-time and thickness-pitch). Participants were tested with a perceptual matching task, in which they matched between spatial stimuli and sounds of different durations or pitches, and a linguistic matching task, in which they matched between a label denoting a spatial attribute, duration, or pitch and a picture or sound representing another dimension. Contrary to previous claims that experience with linguistic metaphors is necessary for children to make cross-domain mappings, children performed above chance for both familiar and unfamiliar relations in both tasks, as did adults. Children’s performance was also better when a label was provided for one of the dimensions, but only when making length-time, size-time, and height-pitch mappings (not thickness-pitch mappings). These findings suggest that although experience with metaphorical language is not necessary to make cross-domain mappings, labels can promote these mappings, both when they have familiar metaphorical uses (e.g., English long denotes both length and duration) and when they describe dimensions that share a common ordinal reference frame (e.g., size and duration but not thickness and pitch). (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)