When do words promote analogical transfer?

Son, J. Y., Doumas, L. A., & Goldstone, R. L. (2010).  When do words promote analogical transfer?  The Journal of Problem Solving3, 52-92.

The purpose of this paper is to explore how and when verbal labels facilitate relational reasoning and transfer. We review the research and theory behind two ways words might direct attention to relational information: (1) words generically invite people to compare and thus highlight relations (the Generic Tokens [GT] hypothesis), and/or (2) words carry semantic cues to common structure (the Cues to Specific Meaning [CSM] hypothesis). Four experiments examined whether learning Signal Detection Theory (SDT) with relational words fostered better transfer than learning without relational words in easily alignable and less alignable situations (testing the GT hypothesis) as well as when the relational words matched and mismatched the semantics of the learning situation (testing the CSM hypothesis). The results of the experiments found support for the GT hypothesis because the presence of relational labels produced better transfer when two situations were alignable. Although the CSM hypothesis does not explain how words facilitate transfer, we found that mismatches between words and their labeled referents can produce a situation where words hinder relational learning.

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