Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Harry Beilin

Committee Members

Sylvia Scribner

Katherine Nelson

David Rindskopf

Nathan Kogan

Subject Categories



Four and 6-year-olds were presented with seven different types of metaphorical relationships in both pictures and words. The core task consisted of a metaphor comprehension task of identical triads (target, nonliteral match, literal match) comprising perceptual/color, perceptual/shape, physiognomic, cross-modal, collectional, psychophysical and taxonomic matches. Children matched items based either on nonliteral similarity or literal contiguity. A series of symbolic play tasks were given to half the subjects at each age group and were hypothesized to facilitate the comprehension of metaphor because of an underlying structural similarity common to systems of reference invoked in both the act of metaphor comprehension and symbolic play. Developmentally, it was hypothesized that younger children would prefer more natural, concrete matches (perceptual, physiognomic and cross-modal) whereas older children would prefer more abstract, socially constructed ones (psychological-physical and taxonomic) with a transitional group in between (collectional matches). Pictures were hypothesized to facilitate the comprehension of metaphor over words in the younger groups, but a reversal of the trend in the older groups, because of a dual-coding hypothesis. In order to contest the claim that operativity is necessary to comprehend metaphor, the 6-year-old group was divided into two equal groups of pre-operational and concrete-operational children. It was predicted that there would be no significant difference between the two groups.

Results supported three of the major hypotheses, but failed to substantiate the facilitation of metaphor comprehension by symbolic play. Explanations were offered for this finding. For the stage main effect there were no significant differences at the same chronological age except for collectional matches. Consequently, there is little supporting evidence for previous claims for a close link between operativity and the comprehension of metaphor. Pictures facilitated the comprehension of perceptual and collectional matches and words facilitated the comprehension of cross-modal and taxonomic matches. Within age, 4-year-olds did significantly better on picture tasks for perceptual, physiognomic and collectional matches. However, across age, 6-year-olds did significantly better on all metaphorical types in the linguistic medium and perceptual, collectional and taxonomic picture tasks. Overall, there was a greater mean difference on word tasks over picture tasks for 6-year-olds as compared to 4-year-olds for all seven metaphorical types.


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