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Unformatted text preview: Newborn infants perceive abstract numbers Ve ronique Izard a,1 , Coralie Sann b , Elizabeth S. Spelke a , and Arlette Streri b a Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138; and b Universite Paris Descartes, Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Unite Mixte de Recherche 8158, Paris, France Edited by Charles R. Gallistel, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Piscataway, NJ, and approved May 5, 2009 (received for review November 28, 2008) 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). Do abstract numerical concepts depend on language or culture, or do they form a part of humans innate, core knowl- edge? Here we show that newborn infants spontaneously associ- ate stationary, visual-spatial arrays of 418 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. development u numerical cognition u cognitive A re humans endowed with abstract representations of the surrounding world? In the domain of number, animals and preverbal infants have been shown to react to the cardinal values of sets presented in a variety of different stimulus formats, and this core number sense is thought to guide learning of numeric symbols and arithmetic in human children and adults (15). For example, by the age of 4.5 to 6 months, infants are able to discriminate between numbers differing in a 1:2 ratio (e.g., 16 vs. 32, 8 vs. 16, 4 vs. 8), when presented with arrays of dots (6, 7), sequences of sounds (8), or sequences of actions (9). In each of these experiments, however, infants were tested with only 1 type of stimulus, raising the question of the level of abstraction of these numeric representations. From the early 1980s to present, several investigations have tested for numeric cross-modal matching in infants with mixed results. Although infants initially were reported to look longer at a set of objects that matched a sequence of sounds played simultaneously (10, 11), subsequent experiments yielded either no such preference (12) or a reversed preference (13). Failures to match sounds and objects on the basis of number have been documented until 34 years of age, eventually resolving as children start to master verbal counting (14). By using more natural stimuli, later research showed unequivocally that infants and animals could detect the numerical correspondence between 2 or 3 items in different modalities (1518). In all of these studies, however, matching was elicited either by drawing on cross-modal correspondences that were familiar [faces and voices (15, 16) or objects with similar features presented across the visual and...
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