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- August 2021
- Child Development Perspectives 15(4)

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Learning the meaning of number words is a lengthy and error‐prone process. In this review, we highlight outstanding issues related to current accounts of children’s acquisition of symbolic number knowledge. We maintain that, despite the ability to identify and label small numerical quantities, children do not understand initially that number words refer only to sets of discrete countable items, not to other nonnumerical dimensions. We question the presence of a sudden change in children’s understanding of cardinality, and we report the limits of the give‐a‐number task. We also highlight that children are still learning the directional property of the counting list, even after acquiring the cardinality principle. Finally, we discuss the role that the Approximate Number System may have in supporting the acquisition of symbolic numbers. We call for improvements in methodological tools and refinement in theoretical understanding of how children learn natural numbers.

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... There is wide agreement that the first phase unfolds in a stepwise manner in the order of magnitude-commonly called the n-knower levels (Condry & Spelke, 2008;Le Corre & Carey, 2007Le Corre et al., 2006;Sarnecka & Carey, 2008;Wynn, 1990Wynn, , 1992. A 1-knower can reliably recognize and label single items as "one" or can give one item upon request but cannot do so for larger numbers; a "2-knower" can reliably recognize and give sets of one and two but not larger numbers; and so forth up to the 4-knower level (but see Sella et al, 2021). ...

... In terms of theoretical implications, although the study clearly has limited external validity and needs to be replicated with a wider range of materials, more trials (including those just beyond five), and a larger and more chronologically, demographically, and linguistically diverse sample, its preliminary results support the HLP outline in Table 1. For example, future research should consider the caution that children who can successfully create a set of 5 may not be able to do so with larger sets-as was the case for two participants in the present study (Posid & Cordes, 2018;Sella et al., 2021). Such children may not know a cardinal-count concept but "successfully" create a set of five any way using a subitizingbased putting-out strategy instead. ...

... In terms of methodological implications, the present results are consistent with the growing concern that the give-n task may underestimate (pre-counting and) counting-based cardinality knowledge (Barner & Bachrach, 2010;Krajcsi, 2021;Mou et al., 2021;Sella et al., 2021;Wagner et al., 2019). If future results confirm that the give-n task requires the more advanced cardinal-count concept, assessing the CP-knower level might better involve a combination of tasks such as the how-many task and a how-many application task (e.g., the cardinal-identity task) and using a composite cardinality score as in the present study. ...

The give-n task is widely used in developmental psychology to indicate young children’s knowledge or use of the cardinality principle (CP): the last number word used in the counting process indicates the total number of items in a collection. Fuson (1988) distinguished between the CP, which she called the count-cardinal concept, and the cardinal-count concept, which she argued is a more advanced cardinality concept that underlies the counting-out process required by the give-n task with larger numbers. One aim of the present research was to evaluate Fuson’s disputed hypothesis that these two cardinality concepts are distinct and that the count-cardinal concept serves as a developmental prerequisite for constructing the cardinal-count concept. Consistent with Fuson’s hypothesis, the present study with twenty-four 3- and 4-year-olds revealed that success on a battery of tests assessing understanding of the count-cardinal concept was significantly and substantially better than that on the give-n task, which she presumed assessed the cardinal-count concept. Specifically, the results indicated that understanding the count-cardinal concept is a necessary condition for understanding the cardinal-count concept. The key methodological implication is that the widely used give-n task may significantly underestimate children’s understanding of the CP or count-cardinal concept. The results were also consistent with a second aim, which was to confirm that number constancy concepts develop after the count-cardinal concept but before the cardinal-count concept.

Article

- May 2022

Mathematics skills relate to lifelong career, health and financial outcomes. Individuals’ cognitive abilities predict mathematics performance and there is growing recognition that environmental influences, including differences in culture and variability in mathematics engagement, also affect mathematics performance. In this Review, we summarize evidence indicating that differences between languages, exposure to maths-focused language, socioeconomic status, attitudes and beliefs about mathematics, and engagement with mathematics activities influence young children’s mathematics performance. These influences play out at the community and individual levels. However, research on the role of these environmental influences for foundational number skills, including understanding of number words, is limited. Future research is needed to understand individual differences in the development of early emerging mathematics skills such as number word skills, examining to what extent different types of environmental input are necessary and how children’s cognitive abilities shape the impact of environmental input. Children’s individual abilities and environment influence their mathematics skills. In this Review, Silver and Libertus examine how language, socioeconomic status and other environmental factors influence mathematics skills across childhood, with a focus on number word acquisition.

Article

- May 2022
- COGNITION

The Give-a-Number task has become a gold standard of children's number word comprehension in developmental psychology. Recently, researchers have begun to use the task as a predictor of other developmental milestones. This raises the question of how reliable the task is, since test-retest reliability of any measure places an upper bound on the size of reliable correlations that can be found between it and other measures. In Experiment 1, we presented 81 2- to 5-year-old children with Wynn (1992) titrated version of the Give-a-Number task twice within a single session. We found that the reliability of this version of the task was high overall, but varied importantly across different assigned knower levels, and was very low for some knower levels. In Experiment 2, we assessed the test-retest reliability of the non-titrated version of the Give-a-Number task with another group of 81 children and found a similar pattern of results. Finally, in Experiment 3, we asked whether the two versions of Give-a-Number generated different knower levels within-subjects, by testing 75 children with both tasks. Also, we asked how both tasks relate to another commonly used test of number knowledge, the “What's-On-This-Card” task. We found that overall, the titrated and non-titrated versions of Give-a-Number yielded similar knower levels, though the non-titrated version was slightly more conservative than the titrated version, which produced modestly higher knower levels. Neither was more closely related to “What's-On-This-Card” than the other. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these results.

The Give-a-number task is one of the most frequently used tests to measure the number knowledge of preschoolers at the time they acquire the meaning of symbolic numbers. In the task, an experimenter asks for a specific number of objects from a child. The literature utilizes several versions of this task, and usually it is assumed that the different versions are equivalent and that they do not have an effect on the measured number knowledge. In the present study, the specific potential effect of the follow-up questions posed after a trial on the measured number knowledge is investigated. Three versions of follow-up questions are compared. The results demonstrate that different versions affect the measured number knowledge of children. These results highlight that follow-up questions should be considered in studies using the Give-a-number task, and more generally, various versions of the Give-a-number task may have an essential effect on the measured number knowledge, thereby partly accounting for conflicting findings in the literature.

Article

Full-text available

- Nov 2019

The ability to choose the larger between two numbers reflects a mature understanding of the magnitude associated with numerical symbols. The present study explores how the knowledge of the number sequence and memory capacity (verbal and visuospatial) relate to number comparison skills while controlling for cardinal knowledge. Preschool children’s (N = 140, Mage‐in‐months = 58.9, range = 41–75) knowledge of the directional property of the counting list as well as the spatial mapping of digits on the visual line were assessed. The ability to order digits on the visual line mediated the relation between memory capacity and number comparison skills while controlling for cardinal knowledge. Beyond cardinality, the knowledge of the (spatial) order of numbers marks the understanding of the magnitude associated with numbers.

Article

Full-text available

- Dec 2018

We investigated the associations between young children’s domain-general executive functioning (EF) skills and domain-specific spontaneous focusing on number (SFON) tendencies and their performance on an approximate number system (ANS) task, paying particular attention to variations in associations across different trial types with either congruent or incongruent non-numerical continuous visual cues. We found that children’s EF skills were strongly related to their performance on ANS task trials in which continuous visual cues were incongruent with numerosity. Novel to the current study, we found that children’s SFON tendencies were specifically related to their performance on ANS task trials in which continuous visual cues were congruent with numerosity. Children’s performance on ANS task trials in which children can use both congruent numerical and non-numerical continuous visual cues to approximate large quantities may be related to their unprompted tendency to focus on number in their early environment when there are not salient distractors present. On the other hand, children’s performance on incongruent ANS trials may be less a function of number-specific knowledge but more of children’s domain-general ability to inhibit salient but conflicting or irrelevant stimuli. Importantly, these effects held even when accounting for global math achievement and children’s cardinality knowledge. Overall, results support the consideration of both domain-specific and domain-general cognitive factors in developmental models of children’s early ability to attend to numerosity and provide a possible means for reconciling previous conflicting research findings.

Article

Full-text available

- Apr 2018

What are young children's first intuitions about numbers and what role do these play in their later understanding of mathematics? Traditionally, number has been viewed as a culturally derived breakthrough occurring relatively recently in human history that requires years of education to master. Contrary to this view, research in cognitive development indicates that our minds come equipped with a rich and flexible sense of number—the approximate number system (ANS). Recently, several major challenges have been mounted to the existence of the ANS and its value as a domain‐specific system for representing number. In this article, we review five questions related to the ANS (what, who, why, where, and how) to argue that the ANS is defined by key behavioral and neural signatures, operates independently from nonnumeric dimensions such as time and space, and is used for a variety of functions (including formal mathematics) throughout life. We identify research questions that help elucidate the nature of the ANS and the role it plays in shaping children's earliest understanding of the world around them.

Children's understanding of the quantities represented by number words (i.e., cardinality) is a surprisingly protracted but foundational step in their learning of formal mathematics. The development of cardinal knowledge is related to one or two core, inherent systems - the approximate number system (ANS) and the object tracking system (OTS) - but whether these systems act alone, in concert, or antagonistically is debated. Longitudinal assessments of 198 preschool children on OTS, ANS, and cardinality tasks enabled testing of two single-mechanism (ANS-only and OTS-only) and two dual-mechanism models, controlling for intelligence, executive functions, preliteracy skills, and demographic factors. Measures of both OTS and ANS predicted cardinal knowledge in concert early in the school year, inconsistent with single-mechanism models. The ANS but not the OTS predicted cardinal knowledge later in the school year as well the acquisition of the cardinal principle, a critical shift in cardinal understanding. The results support a Merge model, whereby both systems initially contribute to children's early mapping of number words to cardinal value, but the role of the OTS diminishes over time while that of the ANS continues to support cardinal knowledge as children come to understand the counting principles.

Chapter

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- Sep 2016

Chapter

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- Dec 2015

Human infants possess two core mechanisms—the analog number system (ANS) and the object tracking system (OTS)—with which they represent number and other quantities. It is vigorously debated whether these systems can support a true concept of number, which requires that the system produce representations that (a) are abstract, (b) connote cardinalities, (c) support ordinality, and (d) support arithmetic computations. It is argued that only the ANS fulfills the requirements of engaging a true number concept, and further that this preverbal number concept provides the foundation for children's learning of formal number concepts. Recent research examining the contributions of both systems to the development of cardinal knowledge supports a dual mechanism view; however, the influence of the OTS is limited and short-lived, suggesting that the ANS is the core mechanism that provides the principled structure (cardinality, ordinality, arithmetic) on which children build a formal concept of number.

Human mathematical abilities comprise both learned, symbolic representations of number and unlearned, non-symbolic evolutionarily primitive cognitive systems for representing quantities. However, the mechanisms by which our symbolic (verbal) number system becomes integrated with the non-symbolic (non-verbal) representations of approximate magnitude (supported by the Approximate Number System, or ANS) are not well understood. To explore this connection, forty-six children participated in a 6-month longitudinal study assessing verbal number knowledge and non-verbal numerical acuity. Cross-sectional analyses revealed a strong relationship between verbal number knowledge and ANS acuity. Longitudinal analyses suggested that increases in ANS acuity were most strongly related to the acquisition of the cardinal principle, but not to other milestones of verbal number acquisition. These findings suggest that experience with culture and language is intimately linked to changes in the properties of a core cognitive system.

Article

Full-text available

- Aug 2015

This article focuses on how young children acquire concepts for exact, cardinal numbers (e.g., three, seven, two hundred, etc.). I believe that exact numbers are a conceptual structure that was invented by people, and that most children acquire gradually, over a period of months or years during early childhood. This article reviews studies that explore children’s number knowledge at various points during this acquisition process. Most of these studies were done in my own lab, and assume the theoretical framework proposed by Carey (The origin of concepts, 2009). In this framework, the counting list (‘one,’ ‘two,’ ‘three,’ etc.) and the counting routine (i.e., reciting the list and pointing to objects, one at a time) form a placeholder structure. Over time, the placeholder structure is gradually filled in with meaning to become a conceptual structure that allows the child to represent exact numbers (e.g., There are 24 children in my class, so I need to bring 24 cupcakes for the party.) A number system is a socially shared, structured set of symbols that pose a learning challenge for children. But once children have acquired a number system, it allows them to represent information (i.e., large, exact cardinal values) that they had no way of representing before.

Article

Full-text available

- May 2015

Humans can represent number either exactly - using their knowledge of exact numbers as supported by language, or approximately - using their approximate number system (ANS). Adults can map between these two systems - they can both translate from an approximate sense of the number of items in a brief visual display to a discrete number word estimate (i.e., ANS-to-Word), and can generate an approximation, for example by rapidly tapping, when provided with an exact verbal number (i.e., Word-to-ANS). Here we ask how these mappings are initially formed and whether one mapping direction may become functional before the other during development. In two experiments, we gave 2-5year old children both an ANS-to-Word task, where they had to give a verbal number response to an approximate presentation (i.e., after seeing rapidly flashed dots, or watching rapid hand taps), and a Word-to-ANS task, where they had to generate an approximate response to a verbal number request (i.e., rapidly tapping after hearing a number word). Replicating previous results, children did not successfully generate numerically appropriate verbal responses in the ANS-to-Word task until after 4years of age - well after they had acquired the Cardinality Principle of verbal counting. In contrast, children successfully generated numerically appropriate tapping sequences in the Word-to-ANS task before 4years of age - well before many understood the Cardinality Principle. We further found that the accuracy of the mapping between the ANS and number words, as captured by error rates, continues to develop after this initial formation of the interface. These results suggest that the mapping between the ANS and verbal number representations is not functionally bidirectional in early development, and that the mapping direction from number representations to the ANS is established before the reverse.
Copyright © 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

While associations between number and space, in the form of a spatially oriented numerical representation, have been extensively reported in human adults, the origins of this phenomenon are still poorly understood. The commonly accepted view is that this number-space association is a product of human invention, with accounts proposing that culture, symbolic knowledge, and mathematics education are at the roots of this phenomenon. Here we show that preverbal infants aged 7 months, who lack symbolic knowledge and mathematics education, show a preference for increasing magnitude displayed in a left-to-right spatial orientation. Infants habituated to left-to-right oriented increasing or decreasing numerical sequences showed an overall higher looking time to new left-to-right oriented increasing numerical sequences at test (Experiment 1). This pattern did not hold when infants were presented with the same ordinal numerical information displayed from right to left (Experiment 2). The different pattern of results was congruent with the presence of a malleable, context-dependent baseline preference for increasing, left-to-right oriented, numerosities (Experiment 3). These findings are suggestive of an early predisposition in humans to link numerical order with a left-to-right spatial orientation, which precedes the acquisition of symbolic abilities, mathematics education, and the acquisition of reading and writing skills.

How does cross-linguistic variation in linguistic structure affect children's acquisition of early number word meanings? We tested this question by investigating number word learning in two unrelated languages that feature a tripartite singular-dual-plural distinction: Slovenian and Saudi Arabic. We found that learning dual morphology affects children's acquisition of the number word two in both languages, relative to English. Children who knew the meaning of two were surprisingly frequent in the dual languages, relative to English. Furthermore, Slovenian children were faster to learn two than children learning English, despite being less-competent counters. Finally, in both Slovenian and Saudi Arabic, comprehension of the dual was correlated with knowledge of two and higher number words.

Article

Full-text available

- Dec 2011

The present study assessed the relationships between approximate and exact number abilities in children with little formal instruction to ask (1) whether individual differences in acuity of the approximate system are related to basic abilities with symbolic numbers; and (2) whether the link between non-symbolic and symbolic number performance changes over the development. To address these questions, four different age groups of 3- to 6-year-old children were asked to compare pairs of train wagons varying on numerical ratio, as well as to complete exact tasks including number words or Arabic numbers. When correlation analyses were conducted across age groups, results indicated that performance in numerosity comparison was associated with mastery of symbolic numbers, even when short-term memory, IQ and age were controlled for. Separate analyses by age group revealed that the precision in numerosity discrimination was related to both number word and Arabic number knowledge but differently across the development.

This study compared 2- to 4-year-olds who understand how counting works (cardinal-principle-knowers) to those who do not (subset-knowers), in order to better characterize the knowledge itself. New results are that (1) Many children answer the question “how many” with the last word used in counting, despite not understanding how counting works; (2) Only children who have mastered the cardinal principle, or are just short of doing so, understand that adding objects to a set means moving forward in the numeral list whereas subtracting objects mean going backward; and finally (3) Only cardinal-principle-knowers understand that adding exactly 1 object to a set means moving forward exactly 1 word in the list, whereas subset-knowers do not understand the unit of change.

What representations underlie the ability to think and reason about number? Whereas certain numerical concepts, such as the real numbers, are only ever represented by a subset of human adults, other numerical abilities are widespread and can be observed in adults, infants and other animal species. We review recent behavioral and neuropsychological evidence that these ontogenetically and phylogenetically shared abilities rest on two core systems for representing number. Performance signatures common across development and across species implicate one system for representing large, approximate numerical magnitudes, and a second system for the precise representation of small numbers of individual objects. These systems account for our basic numerical intuitions, and serve as the foundation for the more sophisticated numerical concepts that are uniquely human.

This paper examines what children believe about unmapped number words - those number words whose exact meanings children have not yet learned. In Study 1, 31 children (ages 2-10 to 4-2) judged that the application of five and six changes when numerosity changes, although they did not know that equal sets must have the same number word. In Study 2, 15 children (ages 2-5 to 3-6) judged that six plus more is no longer six, but that a lot plus more is still a lot. Findings support the hypothesis that children treat number words as referring to specific, unique numerosities even before they know exactly which numerosity each word refers to.

Article

- Oct 2021
- LEARN INSTR

Most longitudinal evidence explores the average level of development, suggesting that the relationships between a limited number of variables applies to all learners in the same way. This is the first longitudinal study that investigates multiple component numeric skills within a preschool population using a person-centered approach (i.e., a latent transition analysis), thus allowing for an investigation of different subgroup learning pathways of mathematical skills over time. 128 children aged 43–54 months (at Time 1) were tracked at three time points over 8 months encompassing the transition from preschool through to their first year of primary education. Findings suggest that there are five developmental pathways of mathematical learning with some groups of children making more rapid progress on entry to school than other groups. Those children in the low number skill pathway have a lower rate of growth than more advanced pathways, possibly due to a lack of understanding in cardinality. Findings highlighted the potential importance of language and working memory abilities on mathematical skills development over time.

Article

- Jan 2021
- COGNITIVE DEV

Two recent studies investigated how children learn to map between digits, number words, and dots (Hurst, Anderson, & Cordes, 2017; Jim ́enez Lira, Carver, Douglas, & LeFevre, 2017). In the current study we aimed to replicate these previous findings by examining a much larger sample (N =195 kindergarteners, aged 2 years 6 months to 5 years 2 months) and taking into account home numeracy activities, that is, daily parent-child interactions with numerical content. In line with previous studies, the results showed that children first learn to map number words onto dots, and number words onto digits, and only afterwards – to map digits onto dots. Furthermore, number words ↔ digits mapping was a better mediator of the relation between digits ↔ dots and the dots ↔ number words mapping tasks, than the dots ↔ number words, suggesting that children rely on their symbolic number knowledge to learn the relation between digits and dots. Finally, both basic and advanced home numeracy activities were positively related to children’s mappings skills. Furthermore, we observed that with increasing the children’s age a shift from basic to advanced activities was present. These results emphasize the importance of tailoring the home numeracy activities according to children’s age

Article

- Sep 2020

Math abilities predict children’s academic achievement and outcomes in adulthood such as full-time employment and income. Previous work indicates that parenting factors (i.e., education, parent math ability, frequency of math activities) relate to children’s math performance. Further, research demonstrates that both domain-general (i.e., language skills, inhibitory control) and domain-specific (i.e., approximate number system acuity, spontaneous focusing on number) cognitive predictors are related to math during early childhood. However, no work has examined all of these factors together to identify their unique contributions for early math. Here, we examine whether parent-level and child-level factors uniquely explain children’s math abilities. To this end, 112 four-year-old children and one of their parents completed a battery of assessments and questionnaires. Results indicate that children’s math performance is uniquely predicted by the frequency of home math activities, as well as children’s own inhibitory control, approximate number system acuity, and tendency to spontaneously focus on number.

Preprint

- May 2020

According to the dominant view in the literature, several numerical cognition phenomena are explained coherently and parsimoniously by the Approximate Number System (ANS) model, which model supposes an evolutionarily old, simple representation behind many numerical tasks. We offer an alternative model, the Discrete Semantic System (DSS) to explain the same phenomena in symbolic numerical tasks. Our alternative model supposes that symbolic numbers are stored in a network of nodes, similar to conceptual or linguistic networks. The benefit of the DSS model is demonstrated through the example of distance and size effects of comparison task.

Article

- Feb 2020

A common measure of number word understanding is the give‐N task. Traditionally, to receive credit for understanding a number, N, children must understand that N does not apply to other set sizes (e.g., a child who gives three when asked for “three” but also when asked for “four” would not be credited with knowing “three”). However, it is possible that children who correctly provide the set size directly above their knower level but also provide that number for other number words (“N+1 givers”) may be in a partial, transitional knowledge state. In an integrative analysis including 191 preschoolers, subset knowers who correctly gave N+1 at pretest performed better at posttest than did those who did not correctly give N+1. This performance was not reflective of “full” knowledge of N+1, as N+1 givers performed worse than traditionally‐coded knowers of that set size on separate measures of number word understanding within a given timepoint. Results support the idea of graded representations (Munakata, 2001) in number word development and suggest traditional approaches to coding the give‐N task may not completely capture children's knowledge.

Article

- Nov 2019

There is an ongoing debate concerning how numbers acquire numerical meaning. On the one hand, it has been argued that symbols acquire meaning via a mapping to external numerosities as represented by the approximate number system (ANS). On the other hand, it has been proposed that the initial mapping of small numerosities to the corresponding number words and the knowledge of the properties of counting list, especially the order relation between symbols, lead to the understanding of the exact numerical magnitude associated with numerical symbols. In the present study, we directly compared these two hypotheses in a group of preschool children who could proficiently count (most of the children were cardinal principle knowers). We used a numerosity estimation task to assess whether children have created a mapping between the ANS and the counting list (i.e., ANS-to-word mapping). Children also completed a direction task to assess their knowledge of the directional property of the counting list. That is, adding one item to a set leads to he next number word in the sequence (i.e., successor knowledge) whereas removing one item leads to the preceding number word (i.e., predecessor knowledge). Similarly, we used a visual order task to assess the knowledge that successive and preceding numbers occupy specific spatial positions on the visual number line (i.e., preceding: [?], [13], [14]; successive: [12], [13], [?]). Finally, children's performance in comparing the magnitude of number words and Arabic numbers indexed the knowledge of exact symbolic numerical magnitude. Approximately half of the children in our sample have created a mapping between the ANS and the counting list. Most of the children mastered the successor knowledge whereas few of them could master the predecessor knowledge. Children revealed a strong tendency to respond with the successive number in the counting list even when an item was removed from a set or the name of the preceding number on the number line was asked. Crucially, we found evidence that both the mastering of the predecessor knowledge and the ability to name the preceding number in the number line relate to the performance in number comparison tasks. Conversely, there was moderate/anecdotal evidence for a relation between the ANS-to-word mapping and number comparison skills. Non-rote access to the number sequence relates to knowledge of the exact magnitude associated with numerical symbols, beyond the mastering of the cardinality principle and domain-general factors.

Article

- Aug 2019
- TRENDS COGN SCI

Do children learn number words by associating them with perceptual magnitudes? Recent studies argue that approximate numerical magnitudes play a foundational role in the development of integer concepts. Against this, we argue that approximate number representations fail both empirically and in principle to provide the content required of integer concepts. Instead, we suggest that children's understanding of integer concepts proceeds in two phases. In the first phase, children learn small exact number word meanings by associating words with small sets. In the second phase, children learn the meanings of larger number words by mastering the logic of exact counting algorithms, which implement the successor function and Hume's principle (that one-to-one correspondence guarantees exact equality). In neither phase do approximate number representations play a foundational role.

Article

- Sep 2018

How do children acquire exact meanings for number words like three or forty‐seven? In recent years, a lively debate has probed the cognitive systems that support learning, with some arguing that an evolutionarily ancient “approximate number system” drives early number word meanings, and others arguing that learning is supported chiefly by representations of small sets of discrete individuals. This debate has centered around findings generated by Wynn's (1990, 1992) Give‐a‐Number task, which she used to categorize children into discrete “knower level” stages. Early reports confirmed Wynn's analysis, and took these stages to support the “small sets” hypothesis. However, more recent studies have disputed this analysis, and have argued that Give‐a‐Number data reveal a strong role for approximate number representations. In the present study, we use previously collected Give‐a‐Number data to replicate the analyses of these past studies, and to show that differences between past studies are due to assumptions made in analyses, rather than to differences in data themselves. We also show how Give‐a‐Number data violate the assumptions of parametric tests used in past studies. Based on simple non‐parametric tests and model simulations, we conclude that (1) before children learn exact meanings for words like one, two, three, and four, they first acquire noisy preliminary meanings for these words, (2) there is no reliable evidence of preliminary meanings for larger meanings, and (3) Give‐a‐Number cannot be used to readily identify signatures of the approximate number system.
This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Article

- Jul 2018

Learning the cardinal principle (the last word reached when counting a set represents the size of the whole set) is a major milestone in early mathematics. But researchers disagree about the relationship between cardinal principle knowledge and other concepts, including how counting implements the successor function (for each number word N representing a cardinal value, the next word in the count list represents the cardinal value N + 1) and exact ordering (cardinal values can be ordered such that each is one more than the value before it and one less than the value after it). No studies have investigated acquisition of the successor principle and exact ordering over time, and in relation to cardinal principle knowledge. An open question thus remains: Is the cardinal principle a "gatekeeper" concept children must acquire before learning about succession and exact ordering, or can these concepts develop separately? Preschoolers (N = 127) who knew the cardinal principle (CP-knowers) or who knew the cardinal meanings of number words up to "three" or "four" (3-4-knowers) completed succession and exact ordering tasks at pretest and posttest. In between, children completed one of two trainings: counting only versus counting, cardinal labeling, and comparison. CP-knowers started out better than 3-4-knowers on succession and exact ordering. Controlling for this disparity, we found that CP-knowers improved over time on succession and exact ordering; 3-4-knowers did not. Improvement did not differ between the two training conditions. We conclude that children can learn the cardinal principle without understanding succession or exact ordering and hypothesize that children must understand the cardinal principle before learning these concepts.

Article

- Sep 2017
- COGNITION

Preschoolers (n = 62) completed tasks that tapped their knowledge of symbolic and non-symbolic exact quantities, their ability to translate among different representations of exact quantity (i.e., digits, number words, and non-symbolic quantities), and their non-symbolic, digit, and spoken number comparison skills (e.g., which is larger, 2 or 4?). As hypothesized, children's knowledge about non-symbolic exact quantities, spoken number words, and digits predicted their ability to map between symbolic and non-symbolic exact quantities. Further, their knowledge of the mappings between digits and non-symbolic quantities predicted symbolic number comparison (i.e., of spoken number words or written digits). Mappings between written digits and non-symbolic exact quantities developed later than the other mappings. These results support a model of early number knowledge in which integration across symbolic and non-symbolic representations of exact quantity underlies the development of children's number comparison skills.

Article

- Feb 2017
- COGNITIVE PSYCHOL

Recent accounts of number word learning posit that when children learn to accurately count sets (i.e., become “cardinal principle” or “CP” knowers), they have a conceptual insight about how the count list implements the successor function – i.e., that every natural number n has a successor defined as n + 1 (Carey, 2004, 2009; Sarnecka & Carey, 2008). However, recent studies suggest that knowledge of the successor function emerges sometime after children learn to accurately count, though it remains unknown when this occurs, and what causes this developmental transition. We tested knowledge of the successor function in 100 children aged 4 through 7 and asked how age and counting ability are related to: (1) children’s ability to infer the successors of all numbers in their count list and (2) knowledge that all numbers have a successor. We found that children do not acquire these two facets of the successor function until they are about 5½ or 6 years of age – roughly 2 years after they learn to accurately count sets and become CP-knowers. These findings show that acquisition of the successor function is highly protracted, providing the strongest evidence yet that it cannot drive the cardinal principle induction. We suggest that counting experience, as well as knowledge of recursive counting structures, may instead drive the learning of the successor function.

Article

- May 2016
- DEV PSYCHOL

Are there differential benefits of training sequential number knowledge versus spatial skills for children's numerical and spatial performance? Three- to five-year-old children (N = 84) participated in 1 session of either sequential training (e.g., what comes before and after the number 5?) or non-numerical spatial training (i.e., decomposition of shapes). Children who received sequential training showed near transfer to a number ordering task and far transfer to a number line task. Furthermore, these children showed more improvement on the version of the number line task where a midpoint reference was presented (i.e., at 5) than on the version without a midpoint. Before the training, the midpoint reference did not enhance performance. In contrast, although children who received non-numerical spatial training showed near transfer to a 2-D mental transformation task, they did not show transfer to number ordering or number line tasks, even though spatial skills were correlated with performance on these tasks. These results support the view that knowledge of sequential relations among successive numbers is an important aspect of children's early numeracy knowledge in tasks that require ordinal understanding of numbers from 1 to 10 and support the educational importance of developing numerical activities that enhance children's understanding of these relations. (PsycINFO Database Record

Article

- Oct 2014
- J EXP CHILD PSYCHOL

Approximate number word knowledge-understanding the relation between the count words and the approximate magnitudes of sets-is a critical piece of knowledge that predicts later math achievement. However, researchers disagree about when children first show evidence of approximate number word knowledge-before, or only after, they have learned the cardinal principle. In two studies, children who had not yet learned the cardinal principle (subset-knowers) produced sets in response to number words (verbal comprehension task) and produced number words in response to set sizes (verbal production task). As evidence of approximate number word knowledge, we examined whether children's numerical responses increased with increasing numerosity of the stimulus. In Study 1, subset-knowers (ages 3.0-4.2years) showed approximate number word knowledge above their knower-level on both tasks, but this effect did not extend to numbers above 4. In Study 2, we collected data from a broader age range of subset-knowers (ages 3.1-5.6years). In this sample, children showed approximate number word knowledge on the verbal production task even when only examining set sizes above 4. Across studies, children's age predicted approximate number word knowledge (above 4) on the verbal production task when controlling for their knower-level, study (1 or 2), and parents' education, none of which predicted approximation ability. Thus, children can develop approximate knowledge of number words up to 10 before learning the cardinal principle. Furthermore, approximate number word knowledge increases with age and might not be closely related to the development of exact number word knowledge.
Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Article

- Sep 2012
- Q J EXP PSYCHOL

How do we map number words to the magnitudes they represent? While much is known about the developmental trajectory of number word learning, the acquisition of the counting routine, and the academic correlates of estimation ability, previous studies have yet to describe the mechanisms that link number words to nonverbal representations of number. We investigated two mechanisms: associative mapping and structure mapping. Four dot array estimation tasks found that adults' ability to match a number word to one of two discriminably different sets declined as a function of set size and that participants' estimates of relatively large, but not small, set sizes were influenced by misleading feedback during an estimation task. We propose that subjects employ structure mappings for linking relatively large number words to set sizes, but rely chiefly on item-by-item associative mappings for smaller sets. These results indicate that both inference and association play important roles in mapping number words to approximate magnitudes.

Article

- Jun 2012

While infants' ability to discriminate quantities has been extensively studied, showing that this competence is present even in neonates, the ability to compute ordinal relations between magnitudes has received much less attention. Here we show that the ability to represent ordinal information embedded in size-based sequences is apparent at 4months of age, provided that magnitude changes involve increasing relations. Infants in Experiments 1A and 1B discriminated changes in ordinal relations after habituation to ascending sequences, but did not show evidence of discrimination after habituation to descending sequences. In Experiment 2 we replicated this asymmetry in magnitude discrimination even when additional cues known to boost ordinal competence were provided. The presence of an asymmetry between ascending vs. descending order during infancy suggests a developmental continuity in the underlying code used to represent magnitude, whereby the reported addition advantage in children and adults' arithmetic performance emerges.

Article

- Apr 1992

This paper examines how and when children come to understand the way in which counting determines numerosity and learn the meanings of the number words. A 7-month longitudinal study of 2 and 3 year olds shows that, very early on, children already know that the counting words each refer to a distinct, unique numerosity, though they do not yet know to which numerosity each word refers. It is possible that children learn this in part from the syntax of the number words. Despite this early knowledge, however, it takes children a long time (on the order of a year) to learn how the counting system represents numerosity. This suggests that our initial concept of number is represented quite differently from the way the counting system represents number, making it a difficult task for children to map the one Onto the Other.

Article

- Jan 2012

In acquiring number words, children exhibit a qualitative leap in which they transition from understanding a few number words, to possessing a rich system of interrelated numerical concepts. We present a computational framework for understanding this inductive leap as the consequence of statistical inference over a sufficiently powerful representational system. We provide an implemented model that is powerful enough to learn number word meanings and other related conceptual systems from naturalistic data. The model shows that bootstrapping can be made computationally and philosophically well-founded as a theory of number learning. Our approach demonstrates how learners may combine core cognitive operations to build sophisticated representations during the course of development, and how this process explains observed developmental patterns in number word learning.

Article

- Apr 2012

We tested the hypothesis that, when children learn to correctly count sets, they make a semantic induction about the meanings of their number words. We tested the logical understanding of number words in 84 children that were classified as "cardinal-principle knowers" by the criteria set forth by Wynn (1992). Results show that these children often do not know (1) which of two numbers in their count list denotes a greater quantity, and (2) that the difference between successive numbers in their count list is 1. Among counters, these abilities are predicted by the highest number to which they can count and their ability to estimate set sizes. Also, children's knowledge of the principles appears to be initially item-specific rather than general to all number words, and is most robust for very small numbers (e.g., 5) compared to larger numbers (e.g., 25), even among children who can count much higher (e.g., above 30). In light of these findings, we conclude that there is little evidence to support the hypothesis that becoming a cardinal-principle knower involves a semantic induction over all items in a child's count list.

Article

- Nov 2010

Attaching meaning to arbitrary symbols (i.e. words) is a complex and lengthy process. In the case of numbers, it was previously suggested that this process is grounded on two early pre-verbal systems for numerical quantification: the approximate number system (ANS or 'analogue magnitude'), and the object tracking system (OTS or 'parallel individuation'), which children are equipped with before symbolic learning. Each system is based on dedicated neural circuits, characterized by specific computational limits, and each undergoes a separate developmental trajectory. Here, I review the available cognitive and neuroscientific data and argue that the available evidence is more consistent with a crucial role for the ANS, rather than for the OTS, in the acquisition of abstract numerical concepts that are uniquely human.

Article

- Oct 2009
- COGNITIVE PSYCHOL

How do children as young as 2 years of age know that numerals, like one, have exact interpretations, while quantifiers and words like a do not? Previous studies have argued that only numerals have exact lexical meanings. Children could not use scalar implicature to strengthen numeral meanings, it is argued, since they fail to do so for quantifiers [Papafragou, A., & Musolino, J. (2003). Scalar implicatures: Experiments at the semantics-pragmatics interface. Cognition, 86, 253-282]. Against this view, we present evidence that children's early interpretation of numerals does rely on scalar implicature, and argue that differences between numerals and quantifiers are due to differences in the availability of the respective scales of which they are members. Evidence from previous studies establishes that (1) children can make scalar inferences when interpreting numerals, (2) children initially assign weak, non-exact interpretations to numerals when first acquiring their meanings, and (3) children can strengthen quantifier interpretations when scalar alternatives are made explicitly available.

Article

- Sep 1990
- COGNITION

This study examines the abstractness of children's mental representation of counting, and their understanding that the last number word used in a count tells how many items there are (the cardinal word principle). In the first experiment, twenty-four 2- and 3-year-olds counted objects, actions, and sounds. Children counted objects best, but most showed some ability to generalize their counting to actions and sounds, suggesting that at a very young age, children begin to develop an abstract, generalizable mental representation of the counting routine. However, when asked "how many" following counting, only older children (mean age 3.6) gave the last number word used in the count a majority of the time, suggesting that the younger children did not understand the cardinal word principle. In the second experiment (the "give-a-number" task), the same children were asked to give a puppet one, two, three, five, and six items from a pile. The older children counted the items, showing a clear understanding of the cardinal word principle. The younger children succeeded only at giving one and sometimes two items, and never used counting to solve the task. A comparison of individual children's performance across the "how-many" and "give-a-number" tasks shows strong within-child consistency, indicating that children learn the cardinal word principle at roughly 3 1/2 years of age. In the third experiment, 18 2- and 3-year-olds were asked several times for one, two, three, five, and six items, to determine the largest numerosity at which each child could succeed consistently. Results indicate that children learn the meanings of smaller number words before larger ones within their counting range, up to the number three or four. They then learn the cardinal word principle at roughly 3 1/2 years of age, and perform a general induction over this knowledge to acquire the meanings of all the number words within their counting range.

Article

- Apr 2006

Advocates of the "continuity hypothesis" have argued that innate non-verbal counting principles guide the acquisition of the verbal count list (Gelman & Galistel, 1978). Some studies have supported this hypothesis, but others have suggested that the counting principles must be constructed anew by each child. Defenders of the continuity hypothesis have argued that the studies that failed to support it obscured children's understanding of counting by making excessive demands on their fragile counting skills. We evaluated this claim by testing two-, three-, and four-year-olds both on "easy" tasks that have supported continuity and "hard" tasks that have argued against it. A few noteworthy exceptions notwithstanding, children who failed to show that they understood counting on the hard tasks also failed on the easy tasks. Therefore, our results are consistent with a growing body of evidence that shows that the count list as a representation of the positive integers transcends pre-verbal representations of number.

Article

- Dec 2007
- COGNITION

Since the publication of [Gelman, R., & Gallistel, C. R. (1978). The child's understanding of number. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.] seminal work on the development of verbal counting as a representation of number, the nature of the ontogenetic sources of the verbal counting principles has been intensely debated. The present experiments explore proposals according to which the verbal counting principles are acquired by mapping numerals in the count list onto systems of numerical representation for which there is evidence in infancy, namely, analog magnitudes, parallel individuation, and set-based quantification. By asking 3- and 4-year-olds to estimate the number of elements in sets without counting, we investigate whether the numerals that are assigned cardinal meaning as part of the acquisition process display the signatures of what we call "enriched parallel individuation" (which combines properties of parallel individuation and of set-based quantification) or analog magnitudes. Two experiments demonstrate that while "one" to "four" are mapped onto core representations of small sets prior to the acquisition of the counting principles, numerals beyond "four" are only mapped onto analog magnitudes about six months after the acquisition of the counting principles. Moreover, we show that children's numerical estimates of sets from 1 to 4 elements fail to show the signature of numeral use based on analog magnitudes - namely, scalar variability. We conclude that, while representations of small sets provided by parallel individuation, enriched by the resources of set-based quantification are recruited in the acquisition process to provide the first numerical meanings for "one" to "four", analog magnitudes play no role in this process.

Article

- Apr 2008
- COGNITION

Human adults are thought to possess two dissociable systems to represent numbers: an approximate quantity system akin to a mental number line, and a verbal system capable of representing numbers exactly. Here, we study the interface between these two systems using an estimation task. Observers were asked to estimate the approximate numerosity of dot arrays. We show that, in the absence of calibration, estimates are largely inaccurate: responses increase monotonically with numerosity, but underestimate the actual numerosity. However, insertion of a few inducer trials, in which participants are explicitly (and sometimes misleadingly) told that a given display contains 30 dots, is sufficient to calibrate their estimates on the whole range of stimuli. Based on these empirical results, we develop a model of the mapping between the numerical symbols and the representations of numerosity on the number line.

How reliable is the give-a-number task

- Jan 2021

- E Marchand
- D Barner

Marchand, E., & Barner, D. (2021). How reliable is the give-a-number
task?. PsyArXiv. https://doi.org/10.31234/ osf.io/ur3z5

Learning to count: New insights on the acquisition of symbolic numerical knowledge

- Jan 2020

- E Slusser
- P Cravalho

Slusser, E., & Cravalho, P. (2020). Size vs. number: Assigning number
words to discrete and continuous quantities. In F. Sella (Chair),
Learning to count: New insights on the acquisition of symbolic numerical knowledge. Proceedings of the Mathematical Cognition
and Learning Society, Dublin, Ireland. https://doi.org/10.17605/
osf.io/uyh7g

- Jan 2021

- Marchand E.