Relational reasoning is a key component of fluid intelligence and an important predictor of academic achievement. Relational reasoning is commonly assessed using matrix completion tasks, in which participants see an incomplete matrix of items that vary on different dimensions and select a response that best completes the matrix based on the relations among items. Performance on such assessments increases dramatically across childhood into adulthood. However, despite widespread use, little is known about the strategies associated with good or poor matrix completion performance in childhood. This study examined the strategies children and adults use to solve matrix completion problems, how those strategies change with age, and whether children and adults adapt strategies to difficulty. We used eyetracking to infer matrix completion strategy use in 6- and 9-year-old children and adults. Across ages, scanning across matrix rows and columns predicted good overall performance, and quicker and higher rates of consulting potential answers predicted poor performance, indicating that optimal matrix completion strategies are similar across development. Indices of good strategy use increased across childhood. As problems increased in difficulty, children and adults increased their scanning of matrix rows and columns, and adults and 9-year-olds also shifted strategies to rely more on consulting potential answers. Adapting strategies to matrix difficulty, particularly increased scanning of rows and columns, was associated with good overall performance in both children and adults. These findings underscore the importance of both spontaneous and adaptive strategy use in individual differences in relational reasoning and its development.

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Competing Interests: The authors declare no conflict of interests.

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