Babies who are good at telling the difference between large and small groups of items even before learning how to count are more likely to do better with numbers in the future, according to new research from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.
The use of Arabic numerals to represent different values is a characteristic unique to humans, not seen outside our species. But we aren't born with this skill. Infants don't have the words to count to 10. So, scientists have hypothesized that the rudimentary sense of numbers in infants is the foundation for higher-level math understanding.
A new study, appearing online in the Oct. 21 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that children do, in fact, tap into this innate numerical ability when learning symbolic mathematical systems. The Duke researchers found that the strength of an infant's inborn number sense can be predictive of the child's future mathematical abilities.
"When children are acquiring the symbolic system for representing numbers and learning about math in school, they're tapping into this primitive number sense," said Elizabeth Brannon, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience, who led the study. "It's the conceptual building block upon which mathematical ability is built."
Brannon explained that babies come into the world with a rudimentary understanding referred to as a primitive number sense. When looking at two collections of objects, primitive number sense allows them to identify which set is numerically larger even without verbal counting or using Arabic numerals. For example, a person instinctively knows a group of 15 strawberries is more than six oranges, just by glancing.
Understanding how infants and young children conceptualize and understand number can lead to the development of new mathematics education strategies, said Brannon's colleague, Duke psychology and neuroscience graduate student Ariel Starr. In particular, this knowledge can be used to design interventions for young children who have trouble learning mathematics symbols and basic methodologies.
To test for primitive number sense, Brannon and Starr analyzed 48 6-month-old infants to see whether they could recognize numerical changes, capitalizing on the interest most babies show in things that change. They placed each baby in front of two screens, one that always showed the same number of dots (e.g., eight), changing in size and position, and another that switched between two different numerical values (e.g., eight and 16 dots). All the arrays of dots changed frequently in size and position. In this task, babies that could tell the difference between the two numerical values (e.g., eight and 16) looked longer at the numerically changing screen.
Brannon and Starr then tested the same children at 3.5 years of age with a non-symbolic number comparison game. The children were shown two different arrays and asked to choose which one had more dots without counting them. In addition, the children took a standardized math test scaled for pre-schoolers, as well as a standardized IQ test. Finally, the researchers gave the children a simple verbal task to identify the largest number word each child could concretely understand.
"We found that infants with higher preference scores for looking at the numerically changing screen had better primitive number sense three years later compared to those infants with lower scores," Starr said. "Likewise, children with higher scores in infancy performed better on standardized math tests."
Brannon said the findings point to a real connection between symbolic math and quantitative abilities that are present in infancy before education takes hold and shapes our mathematical abilities.
"Our study shows that infant number sense is a predictor of symbolic math," Brannon said. "We believe that when children learn the meaning of number words and symbols, they're likely mapping those meanings onto pre-verbal representations of number that they already have in infancy," she said.
"We can't measure a baby's number sense ability at 6 months and know how they'll do on their SATs," Brannon added. "In fact our infant task only explains a small percentage of the variance in young children's math performance. But our findings suggest that there is cognitive overlap between primitive number sense and symbolic math. These are fundamental building blocks."
This research was supported by a National Institutes of Health grant R01 HD059108, a National Science Foundation Research and Evaluation on Education in Science Engineering and Developmental and Learning Sciences Grant, a James McDonnell Scholar Award, and a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship.
CITATION: "Number sense in infancy predicts mathematical abilities in childhood," Ariel Starr, Melissa E. Libertus, Elizabeth M. Brannon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 21, 2013, 10.1073/pnas.1302751110/-/DCSupplemental
Karl Leif Bates | EurekAlert!
Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
26.10.2016 | Awards Funding
26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering