Baby got math

Cognitive neuroscientists have shown that babies have an abstract numerical sense, as demonstrated by their ability to match the number of voices they hear to the number of faces they expect to see. This numerical perception across senses demonstrates that babies have a truly abstract sense of numerical concepts -- and not just one that is a function of a particular sense -- even before they learn to speak. Previous experiments on this topic have yielded conflicting and equivocal results, said the researchers.

The researchers, Kerry Jordan and Elizabeth Brannon of Duke University, published their findings the week of Feb. 13-17, 2006, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Jordan is a graduate student and Brannon is an assistant professor in Duke's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. The research was sponsored by The National Institute of Mental Health, The National Science Foundation and the John Merck Fund.

In their study, Jordan and Brannon used the same basic experimental design that they had previously used to demonstrate that monkeys show numerical perception across senses http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/2005/06/BrannonCurrBio.html. In those experiments, the researchers, collaborating with colleagues at the Max Planck Society, presented the monkeys with the sound of two or three animals making a natural "coo" sound. At the same time they gave the monkeys a choice to look at video images of either two or three monkeys cooing. The researchers found that the monkeys overwhelmingly chose to look at video images that matched the number of monkeys they were hearing.

Similarly, in the study with seven-month-old infants, the Duke researchers presented the babies with the voices of two or three women saying "look." Simultaneously, the babies could choose between looking at video images of two or three women sayin

Contact: Dennis Meredith
Duke University

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