Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Pre-verbal Number Sense Common To Monkeys, Babies, College Kids

Date:
February 15, 2009
Source:
Duke University
Summary:
Scientists are studying how human adults and infants, lemurs, and monkeys think about numbers without using language. One researcher is looking for the brain systems that support number sense and trying to figure out how this cognitive skill develops.

Basic arithmetic and "number sense" appear to be part of the shared evolutionary past of many primates; it's the use of language to explain abstractions that apparently takes human math to a higher level.

Related Articles


Elizabeth Brannon, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, studies how human adults and infants, lemurs, and monkeys think about numbers without using language. She's looking for the brain systems that support number sense and trying to figure out how this cognitive skill develops.

"Number is one of the more abstract domains of cognition: three coins and three loaves of bread are very different concepts," says Brannon, who will be speaking on February 13 at the AAAS annual meeting. "Yet, many studies show that babies, even in the first year of life, can tell the difference between quantities."

She runs about 500 babies per year through her testing lab at Duke, as well as macaques, lemurs and the odd undergraduate. Most of the experiments involve computer touch-screens and sets of brightly colored dots.

After seeing the same number of objects repeated in different-looking sets, infants recognize the novelty of a new number of objects. So do macaques. And both college kids and macaques can do a rough sort of math by summing sets of objects without actually counting them. Their speed and accuracy are about the same, in fact.

That the evolved brain has some fundamental sense of number without language should come as little surprise, Brannon says.

"There are all sorts of reasons why number would be useful for nonhuman animals in the wild. In foraging situations animals need to make decisions about how long to stay in a given patch of food and when to move on," Brannon says. "Territorial animals may need to assess the number of individuals in their own group relative to competing groups to decide whether to stand their ground or retreat."

Understanding the biological basis of our number sense might also help early childhood educators.

Brannon's latest work is aimed at understanding how the human brain changes to accommodate symbolism as a child learns the names of numbers and begins to grasp more abstract manipulations. "If the nonverbal number sense is really providing a critical foundation for math achievement, then this will suggest teaching methods that provide more grounding in the nonverbal quantity system."

Brannon is also exploring the macaque's sense of an empty set, what we'd call zero with our linguistically intensive sense of number. The monkeys are more likely to confuse an empty set with a 1 or a 2 than they are to confuse it with an 8 or a 9, she says, which shows they're putting zero in the proper place on the number line.

"We're trying to understand how the animal mind works. How much of human thought is dependent on language?"


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Duke University. "Pre-verbal Number Sense Common To Monkeys, Babies, College Kids." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090213114156.htm>.
Duke University. (2009, February 15). Pre-verbal Number Sense Common To Monkeys, Babies, College Kids. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090213114156.htm
Duke University. "Pre-verbal Number Sense Common To Monkeys, Babies, College Kids." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090213114156.htm (accessed January 31, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NFL Concussions Down; Still on Parents' Minds

NFL Concussions Down; Still on Parents' Minds

AP (Jan. 30, 2015) The NFL announced this week that the number of game concussions dropped by a quarter over last season. Still, the dangers of the sport still weigh on players, and parents&apos; minds. (Jan. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Shows Newborn Chicks Count From Left to Right Just Like Humans

Study Shows Newborn Chicks Count From Left to Right Just Like Humans

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) Researchers for the first time identified human&apos;s innate preference for associating low and high numbers with the left and right respectively in another species. Jen Markham (@jenmarkham) explains. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Best Mood Elevating, Feel Good Shakes & Smoothies

Best Mood Elevating, Feel Good Shakes & Smoothies

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) You can elevate your mood by having a meal in a glass. Fitness and nutrition expert John Basedow (@JohnBasedow) offers the best &apos;feel good&apos; smoothies and shakes chock full of depression-relieving ingredients...including apples, berries, lemons, cucumbers, papaya, kiwi, spinach, kale, whey protein, matcha, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Poll Says Firstborn Is Responsible, Youngest Is Funnier

Poll Says Firstborn Is Responsible, Youngest Is Funnier

Newsy (Jan. 30, 2015) According to a poll out of the U.K., eldest siblings feel more responsible and successful than their younger siblings. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins