Young Children's Understanding of "more" and Discrimination of Number and Surface Area

Darko Odic, Paul Pietroski, Tim Hunter, Jeffrey Lidz, Justin Halberda

The psychology supporting the use of quantifier words (e.g., “some,” “most,” “more”) is of interest to both scientists studying quantity representation (e.g., number, area) and to scientists and linguists studying the syntax and semantics of these terms. Understanding quantifiers requires both a mastery of the linguistic representations and a connection with cognitive representations of quantity. Some words (e.g., “many”) refer to only a single dimension, whereas others, like the comparative “more,” refer to comparison by numeric (“more dots”) or nonnumeric dimensions (“more goo”). In the present work, we ask 2 questions. First, when do children begin to understand the word “more” as used to compare nonnumeric substances and collections of discrete objects? Second, what is the underlying psychophysical character of the cognitive representations children utilize to verify such sentences? We find that children can understand and verify sentences including “more goo” and “more dots” at around 3.3 years—younger than some previous studies have suggested—and that children employ the Approximate Number System and an Approximate Area System in verification. These systems share a common underlying format (i.e., Gaussian representations with scalar variability). The similarity in the age of onset we find for understanding “more” in number and area contexts, along with the similar psycho- physical character we demonstrate for these underlying cognitive representations, suggests that children may learn “more” as a domain-neutral comparative term.