When and how children use explanations to guide generalizations
Explanations highlight inductively rich relationships that support further generalizations: if a knife is sharp because it is for cutting, we can infer that other things for cutting might also be sharp. Do children see explanations as good guides to generalization? We asked 108 4- to 7-year-old children to evaluate mechanistic, functional, and categorical explanations of object properties, and to generalize those properties to novel objects on the basis of shared mechanisms, functions, or category membership. Children were significantly more likely to generalize when the explanation they had received matched the subsequent basis for generalization (e.g., generalizing on the basis of a shared mechanism after hearing a mechanistic explanation). This effect appeared to be driven by older children. Explanation-to-generalization coordination also appeared to vary across relationships, mirroring the development of corresponding explanatory preferences. These findings fill an important gap in our understanding of how explanations guide young children’s generalization and learning.