Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

You can count on this: Math ability is inborn

09.08.2011
We accept that some people are born with a talent for music or art or athletics. But what about mathematics? Do some of us just arrive in the world with better math skills than others?

It seems we do, at least according to the results of a study by a team of Johns Hopkins University psychologists. Led by Melissa Libertus, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the study -- published online in a recent issue of Developmental Science -- indicates that math ability in preschool children is strongly linked to their inborn and primitive "number sense," called an "Approximate Number System" or ANS.

Research reveals that "number sense" is basic to all animals, not just human beings. For instance, creatures that hunt or gather food use it to ascertain where they can find and procure the most nuts, plants or game and to keep track of the food they hunt or gather. We humans use it daily to allow us, at a glance, to estimate the number of open seats in a movie theater or the number of people in a crowded meeting. And it is measurable, even in newborn infants.

Though the link between ANS and formal mathematics ability already has been established in adolescents, Libertus says her team's is the first study to examine the role of "number sense" in children too young to already have had substantial formal mathematics instruction.

"The relationship between 'number sense' and math ability is important and intriguing because we believe that 'number sense' is universal, whereas math ability has been thought to be highly dependent on culture and language and takes many years to learn," she explained. "Thus, a link between the two is surprising and raises many important questions and issues, including one of the most important ones, which is whether we can train a child's number sense with an eye to improving his future math ability."

The team tested 200 4-year-old (on average) children on several tasks measuring number sense, mathematical ability and verbal ability. The children were rewarded for their participation with small trinkets, such as stickers and pencils.

During the number sense task, researchers asked the children to view flashing groups of blue and yellow dots on a computer screen and to estimate which color group of dots was more numerous. Counting wasn't an option, both because the dots were flashed so quickly and because most of the children were not yet skilled counters. The preschoolers would then verbally tell the tester whether the yellow or blue dots were more numerous, and the tester would press the appropriate button. Some comparisons were easy (like comparing five yellow versus 10 blue dots). Others were much harder (like comparing five yellow versus six blue dots). Children were informed of right or wrong answers via a high- or low-pitched beep. (You can take a test similar to the one administered to the children online here: http://www.panamath.org/testyourself.php )

The children also were given a standardized test of early mathematics ability that measures numbering skills (verbally counting items on a page), number-comparison (determining which of two spoken number words is greater or lesser), numeral literacy (reading Arabic numbers), mastery of number facts (such as addition or multiplication), calculation skills (solving written addition and subtraction problems) and number concepts (such as answering how many sets of 10 are in 100.) This standardized test is often given to children between the ages of 3 and 8 years.

Lastly, the parents and guardians of the children were given an assessment that asked them to indicate each word on a list that their children had been heard to say. According to Libertus, this verbal test was administered because language and math abilities are to some extent linked through general intelligence, and the researchers wanted to make sure that the differences in math ability that they found were not just due to some children performing better on all kinds of tasks, or to some children feeling more comfortable being tested than others.

Libertus and her colleagues Lisa Feigenson and Justin Halberda, faculty members in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, found that the precision of children's estimations correlated with their math skill. That is, the children who could make the finest-grained estimations in the dot comparison task (for example, judging that eight yellow dots were more than seven blue dots) also knew the most about Arabic numerals and arithmetic.

According to the researchers, this means that inborn numerical estimation abilities are linked to achievement (or lack thereof) in school mathematics.

"Previous studies testing older children left open the possibility that differences in instructional experience is what caused the difference in their number sense; in other words, that some children tested in middle or high school looked like they had better number sense simply because they had had better math instruction," Libertus said. "Unlike those studies, this one shows that the link between 'number sense' and math ability is already present before the beginning of formal math instruction."

Still in question, of course, is the root cause of the link between number sense and math ability. Do children born with better number sense have an easier time learning to count and to understand the symbolic nature of numbers? Or it is just that children born with less accurate number sense may end up avoiding math-related activities before they develop competency?

"Of course, many questions remain and there is much we still have to learn about this," Libertus said. "But what we have done raises many important avenues for future research and applications in education. One of the most basic is whether we can train children's Approximate Number System and thereby improve their math ability, and whether we can develop school math curricula that make use of children's ANS abilities and thus, help them grasp more advanced math concepts earlier."

This study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

To read the article online, go here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2011.01080.x/abstract

For more information about the Laboratory for Child Development at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences: http://www.psy.jhu.edu/~labforchilddevelopment/

Lisa DeNike | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.jhu.edu

Further reports about: Arabic Arts and Sciences Brain Brain Sciences Libertus Science TV

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht WAKE-UP provides new treatment option for stroke patients | International study led by UKE
17.05.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf

nachricht First form of therapy for childhood dementia CLN2 developed
25.04.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>