Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Infants can't distinguish between large and small groups

Date:
June 19, 2012
Source:
University of Missouri-Columbia
Summary:
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.

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.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Kristy vanMarle. Infants use different mechanisms to make small and large number ordinal judgments. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2012.04.007

Cite This Page:

University of Missouri-Columbia. "Infants can't distinguish between large and small groups." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120619123757.htm>.
University of Missouri-Columbia. (2012, June 19). Infants can't distinguish between large and small groups. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120619123757.htm
University of Missouri-Columbia. "Infants can't distinguish between large and small groups." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120619123757.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