Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Poor 'gut sense' of numbers contributes to persistent math difficulties

Date:
June 17, 2011
Source:
Kennedy Krieger Institute
Summary:
Having a poor "gut sense" of numbers can lead to a mathematical learning disability and difficulty in achieving basic math proficiency. This inaccurate number sense is just one cause of math learning disabilities, according to researchers.

A new study published June 17 in the journal Child Development finds that having a poor "gut sense" of numbers can lead to a mathematical learning disability and difficulty in achieving basic math proficiency. This inaccurate number sense is just one cause of math learning disabilities, according to the research led by Dr. Michele Mazzocco of the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Approximately 6 to 14 percent of school-age children have persistent difficulty with mathematics, despite adequate learning opportunities and age-appropriate achievement in other school subjects. These learning difficulties can have lifelong consequences when it comes to job success and financial decision-making. Heightened interest in the nature and origins of these learning difficulties has led to studies to define mathematical learning disability (MLD), identify its underlying core deficits, and differentiate children with MLD from their mathematically successful counterparts.

The new Kennedy Krieger study showed that children with a confirmed math learning disability have a markedly inaccurate number sense compared to their peers. But Dr. Mazzocco said students without a MLD who were below average in achievement performed on the number sense tasks as well as those considered average. For them, number sense doesn't seem to be the trouble.

"Some children have a remarkably imprecise intuitive sense of numbers, and we believe these children have math learning disability, at least in part, due to deficits in this intuitive type of number sense," said Dr. Mazzocco, Director of the Math Skills Development Project at Kennedy Krieger. "But other students who underperform in math do so despite having an intact number sense. This demonstrates the complexity of determining precisely what influences or interferes with a child's mathematical learning. Difficulty learning math may result from a weak number sense but it may also result from a wide range of other factors such as spatial reasoning or working memory. While we should not assume that all children who struggle with mathematics have a poor number sense, we should consider the possibility."

To gauge their sense of numbers, Dr. Mazzocco and colleagues tested 71 children who were previously enrolled in a 10-year longitudinal study of math achievement. The students, all in the ninth grade, completed two basic number sense tasks. In the number naming task, they were shown arrays of dots and asked to judge how many dots were present, without allowing enough time to actually count them. In the number discrimination task, the children were shown arrays of blue dots and yellow dots and asked to determine whether the blue or yellow array had more dots, again, without time to count them.

The researchers then compared the performance of four groups of students, who over the 10-year study, consistently showed having either a MLD, below average, average or above average math achievement.

Students with MLD performed significantly worse than their peers on both of the number tasks. The study findings suggest that an innate ability to approximate numbers, an intact ability present in human infants and many other species, contributes to more sophisticated math abilities later in life, while a less accurate ability underlies MLD. Additionally, the findings reveal that a poor number sense is not the only potential source of math difficulties, reinforcing that a 'one size fits all' educational approach may not be the best for helping children who struggle with math.

"A key message for parents and teachers is that children vary in the precision of their intuitive sense of numbers. We might take for granted that every child perceives numbers with roughly comparable precision, but this assumption would be false. Some students may need more practice, or different kinds of practice, to develop this number sense," Dr. Mazzocco said. "At the same time, if a child is struggling with mathematics at school, we should not assume that the child's difficulty is tied to a poor number sense; this is just one possibility."

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Co-investigators on the study were Lisa Feigenson and Justin Halberda of Johns Hopkins University.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Michθle M. M. Mazzocco, Lisa Feigenson and Justin Halberda. Impaired Acuity of the Approximate Number System Underlies Mathematical Learning Disability (Dyscalculia). Child Development, 16 JUN 2011 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01608.x

Cite This Page:

Kennedy Krieger Institute. "Poor 'gut sense' of numbers contributes to persistent math difficulties." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110617081552.htm>.
Kennedy Krieger Institute. (2011, June 17). Poor 'gut sense' of numbers contributes to persistent math difficulties. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110617081552.htm
Kennedy Krieger Institute. "Poor 'gut sense' of numbers contributes to persistent math difficulties." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110617081552.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Newsy (July 30, 2014) — Researchers say women who diet at a young age are at greater risk of developing harmful health habits, including eating disorders and alcohol abuse. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

Newsy (July 29, 2014) — If you've been looking for love online, there's a chance somebody has been looking at how you're looking. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

Newsy (July 29, 2014) — Researchers have found certain facial features can make us seem more attractive or trustworthy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) — A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. 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:
from the past week

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