A developmental analysis of the polar structure of dimensions

Linda B. Smith, Maria D. Sera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


Some dimensions such as size and loudness are clearly marked for magnitude with one end being "more than" the other end. Thus, big is more than little and loud is more than quiet. This research examined the interaction of perception and language in the development of the magnitude marking of size, loudness, and achromatic color. Children 2 to 5 years of age and adults participated in six experiments. A cross-dimension matching task and a "Which is more?" task were used. The results suggest fast, invariant, and unidirectional development for size and loudness. Big is perceptually and linguistically more than little early in development and becomes more strongly organized with development. Loudness starts out disorganized and may be linguistically organized into more and less ends before it is perceptually organized. However, developments in perception and in language are rapid and in the same direction. In contrast, achromatic color shows an irregular developmental trend. Early in development, dark grey is perceptually more than light grey. But this early organization is disrupted at the same time that children acquire the words dark and light. The results suggest converging interactions between perception and language in the case of size and loudness and antagonistic interactions in the case of darkness. The results are interpreted in terms of a dynamical system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-142
Number of pages44
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1992

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by NIH Grants ROl-H719499 and KO4-H1700589. We thank Jennifer Staab, Tracy Goodrich, Serina Johnson, and the Bloomington Developmental Learning Center. We thank Susan Jones, Dedre Gentner, Elissa Newport, and the reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. Reprint requests should be addressed to Linda B. Smith, Department of Psychology, Indiana University, Psychology Building, Bloomington, IN 47405.


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