Infants Can’t Distinguish Between Large and Small Groups, MU Researcher Finds
Research could lead to improvements in childhood education
Human brains process large and small numbers of objects using two different mechanisms, but infants have not yet developed the ability to make those two processes work together, according to new research from the University of Missouri.
“This research was the first to show the inability of infants in a single age group to discriminate large and small sets in a single task,” said Kristy vanMarle, assistant professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts and Science. “Understanding how infants develop the ability to represent and compare numbers could be used to improve early education programs.”
The MU study found that infants consistently chose the larger of two groups of food items when both sets were larger or smaller than four, just as an adult would. Unlike adults, the infants showed no preference for the larger group when choosing between one large and one small set. The results suggest that at age one infants have not yet integrated the two mental functions: one being the ability to estimate numbers of items at a glance and the other being the ability to visually track small sets of objects.
In vanMarle’s study, 10- to 12-month-old infants were presented with two opaque cups. Different numbers of pieces of breakfast cereal were hidden in each cup, while the infants observed, and then the infants were allowed to choose a cup. Four comparisons were tested between different combinations of large and small sets. Infants consistently chose two food items over one and eight items over four, but chose randomly when asked to compare two versus four and two versus eight.
“Being unable to determine that eight is larger than two would put an organism at a serious disadvantage,” vanMarle said. “However, ongoing studies in my lab suggest that the capacity to compare small and large sets seems to develop before age two.”
The ability to make judgments about the relative number of objects in a group has old evolutionary roots. Dozens of species, including some fish, monkeys and birds have shown the ability to recognize numerical differences in laboratory studies. VanMarle speculated that being unable to compare large and small sets early in infancy may not have been problematic during human evolution because young children probably received most of their food and protection from caregivers. Infants’ survival didn’t depend on determining which bush had the most berries or how many predators they just saw, she said.
“In the modern world there are educational programs that claim to give children an advantage by teaching them arithmetic at an early age,” said vanMarle. “This research suggests that such programs may be ineffective simply because infants are unable to compare some numbers with others.”
VanMarle’s research was published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.
Timothy Wall | EurekAlert!
The most recent press releases about innovation >>>
Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:
Augsburg chemists present a new technology for compressing, storing and transporting highly volatile gases in porous frameworks/New prospects for gas-powered vehicles
Storage of highly volatile gases has always been a major technological challenge, not least for use in the automotive sector, for, for example, methane or...
When we put water in a freezer, water molecules crystallize and form ice. This change from one phase of matter to another is called a phase transition. While this transition, and countless others that occur in nature, typically takes place at the same fixed conditions, such as the freezing point, one can ask how it can be influenced in a controlled way.
We are all familiar with such control of the freezing transition, as it is an essential ingredient in the art of making a sorbet or a slushy. To make a cold...
Fraunhofer IWS Dresden scientists print electronic layers with polymer ink
Thin organic layers provide machines and equipment with new functions. They enable, for example, tiny energy recuperators. In future, these will be installed...
Neue Messmethode erlaubt es Forschenden, die Bewegung von Molekülen lange und genau zu verfolgen
Das Zusammenspiel aus Struktur und Dynamik bestimmt die Funktion von Proteinen, den molekularen Werkzeugen der Zelle. Durch Fortschritte in der...
New measurement method allows researchers to precisely follow the movement of individual molecules over long periods of time
The function of proteins – the molecular tools of the cell – is governed by the interplay of their structure and dynamics. Advances in electron microscopy have...