Abstract numbers: Culture or innate core knowledge?

"Do abstract numerical concepts depend on language or culture, or do they form a part of humans' innate, core knowledge?" ask Véronique Izard, Coralie Sann, Elizabeth Spelke and Arlette Streri in "Newborn infants perceive abstract numbers" (PNAS June 23, 2009 vol. 106 no. 25 10382-10385).

Abstract : Although infants and animals respond to the approximate number of elements in visual, auditory, and tactile arrays, only human children and adults have been shown to possess abstract numerical representations that apply to entities of all kinds (e.g., 7 samurai, seas, or sins). … Here we show that newborn infants spontaneously associate stationary, visual-spatial arrays of 4-18 objects with auditory sequences of events on the basis of number. Their performance provides evidence for abstract numerical representations at the start of postnatal experience.




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