Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Baby's innate number sense predicts future math skill

23.10.2013
Sense of quantity is there before the words or numbers

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!
Further information:
http://www.duke.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Innovative genetic tests for children with developmental disorders and epilepsy
11.07.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Oxygen loss in the coastal Baltic Sea is “unprecedentedly severe”
05.07.2018 | European Geosciences Union

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: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>