Infants' discrimination of number vs. continuous extent

Seven studies explored the empirical basis for claims that infants represent cardinal values of small sets of objects. Many studies investigating numerical ability did not properly control for continuous stimulus properties such as surface area, volume, contour length, or dimensions that correlate with these properties. Experiment 1 extended the standard habituation/dishabituation paradigm to a 1 vs 2 comparison with three-dimensional objects and confirmed that when number and total front surface area are confounded, infants discriminate the arrays. Experiment 2 revealed that infants dishabituated to a change in front surface area but not to a change in number when the two variables were pitted against each other. Experiments 3 through 5 revealed no sensitivity to number when front surface area was controlled, and Experiments 6 and 7 extended this pattern of findings to the Wynn (1992) transformation task. Infants’ lack of a response to number, combined with their demonstrated sensitivity to one or more dimensions of continuous extent, supports the hypothesis that the representations subserving object-based attention, rather than those subserving enumeration, underlie performance in the above tasks.
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