McNair/Gateway Scholars Program USC

Nicole Grant


Major and Classification


Faculty Mentor

  • Thomas Lyon, J.D., Ph.D.


  • Law and Psychology

McNair Project

Are We There Yet?: Preschool Children's Understanding of Approximation Using the Word "Almost"

Language acquisition becomes more refined with age, but no research to date addresses about children's ability to approximate (i.e. how children use language to distinguish between multiple items which differ in degrees of similarity and differences) or at what age this cognitive ability surfaces. This study investigates children's ability to approximate using the word "almost." Subjects aged 3;5 to 5;10 were shown a target image and asked to identify which of three images was "almost the same" and "really different" from the target. Six categories were utilized in this study: number, size, color, location, schematic facial appearance, and realistic facial appearance. The results indicate that the ability to approximate similar and different items is strongly correlated with age. Overall, younger children seem to have an understanding of "same" and "different." However, when it comes to the concept of "almost the same" and "really different", the younger children are simply performing at chance. This skill begins to emerge at age 5;0 as children demonstrate with relative accuracy their ability to use the word "almost." The findings shed light on children's language development, including verbal capacity and comprehension concerning approximations during the preoperational stage. Furthermore, the findings have implications for forensic interviews involving child witnesses. Lawyers and interviewers may now construct questions that are better suited for the child's cognitive capacity, thus eliminating confusion and frustration for the child witness and legal system alike.