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. (shrink)
Much research supports the existence of an Approximate Number System (ANS) that is recruited by infants, children, adults, and non-human animals to generate coarse, non-symbolic representations of number. This system supports simple arithmetic operations such as addition, subtraction, and ordering of amounts. The current study tests whether an intuition of a more complex calculation, division, exists in an indigene group in the Amazon, the Mundurucu, whose language includes no words for large numbers. Mundurucu children were presented with a video event (...) depicting a division transformation of halving, in which pairs of objects turned into single objects, reducing the array's numerical magnitude. Then they were tested on their ability to calculate the outcome of this division transformation with other large-number arrays. The Mundurucu children effected this transformation even when non-numerical variables were controlled, performed above chance levels on the very first set of test trials, and exhibited performance similar to urban children who had access to precise number words and a surrounding symbolic culture. We conclude that a halving calculation is part of the suite of intuitive operations supported by the ANS. (shrink)
All humans share a universal, evolutionarily ancient approximate number system (ANS) that estimates and combines the numbers of objects in sets with ratio-limited precision. Interindividual variability in the acuity of the ANS correlates with mathematical achievement, but the causes of this correlation have never been established. We acquired psychophysical measures of ANS acuity in child and adult members of an indigene group in the Amazon, the Mundurucú, who have a very restricted numerical lexicon and highly variable access to mathematics education. (...) By comparing Mundurucú subjects with and without access to schooling, we found that education significantly enhances the acuity with which sets of concrete objects are estimated. These results indicate that culture and education have an important effect on basic number perception. We hypothesize that symbolic and nonsymbolic numerical thinking mutually enhance one another over the course of mathematics instruction. (shrink)
Letter-position tolerance varies across languages. This observation suggests that the neural code for letter strings may also be subtly different. Although language-specific models remain useful, we should endeavor to develop a universal model of reading acquisition which incorporates crucial neurobiological constraints. Such a model, through a progressive internalization of phonological and lexical regularities, could perhaps converge onto the language-specific properties outlined by Frost.
A uniquely integrative work, this volume provides a much needed compilation of primary source material to researchers from basic neuroscience, psychology, developmental science, neuroimaging, neuropsychology and theoretical biology. * The ...
Kant argued that Euclidean geometry is synthesized on the basis of an a priori intuition of space. This proposal inspired much behavioral research probing whether spatial navigation in humans and animals conforms to the predictions of Euclidean geometry. However, Euclidean geometry also includes concepts that transcend the perceptible, such as objects that are infinitely small or infinitely large, or statements of necessity and impossibility. We tested the hypothesis that certain aspects of nonperceptible Euclidian geometry map onto intuitions of space that (...) are present in all humans, even in the absence of formal mathematical education. Our tests probed intuitions of points, lines, and surfaces in participants from an indigene group in the Amazon, the Mundurucu, as well as adults and age-matched children controls from the United States and France and younger US children without education in geometry. The responses of Mundurucu adults and children converged with that of mathematically educated adults and children and revealed an intuitive understanding of essential properties of Euclidean geometry. For instance, on a surface described to them as perfectly planar, the Mundurucu's estimations of the internal angles of triangles added up to ∼180 degrees, and when asked explicitly, they stated that there exists one single parallel line to any given line through a given point. These intuitions were also partially in place in the group of younger US participants. We conclude that, during childhood, humans develop geometrical intuitions that spontaneously accord with the principles of Euclidean geometry, even in the absence of training in mathematics. (shrink)
The performance of the Mundurucu on the number-space task may exemplify a general competence for drawing analogies between space and other linear dimensions, but Mundurucu participants spontaneously chose number when other dimensions were available. Response placement may not reflect the subjective scale for numbers, but Cantlon et al.'s proposal of a linear scale with scalar variability requires additional hypotheses that are problematic.
Cohen Kadosh & Walsh (CK&W) neglect the solid empirical evidence for a convergence of notation-specific representations onto a shared representation of numerical magnitude. Subliminal priming reveals cross-notation and cross-modality effects, contrary to CK&W's prediction that automatic activation is modality and notation-specific. Notation effects may, however, emerge in the precision, speed, automaticity, and means by which the central magnitude representation is accessed.
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. (shrink)
We agree with Nuñez that the Mundurucu do not master the formal propreties of number lines and logarithms, but as the term "intuition" implies, they spontaneously experience a logarithmic mapping of number to space as natural and "feeling right.".
Humans possess two nonverbal systems capable of representing numbers, both limited in their representational power: the first one represents numbers in an approximate fashion, and the second one conveys information about small numbers only. Conception of exact large numbers has therefore been thought to arise from the manipulation of exact numerical symbols. Here, we focus on two fundamental properties of the exact numbers as prerequisites to the concept of EXACT NUMBERS : the fact that all numbers can be generated by (...) a successor function and the fact that equality between numbers can be defined in an exact fashion. We discuss some recent findings assessing how speakers of Munduruc (an Amazonian language), and young Western children (3-4 years old) understand these fundamental properties of numbers. (shrink)
The mapping of numbers onto space is fundamental to measurement and to mathematics. Is this mapping a cultural invention or a universal intuition shared by all humans regardless of culture and education? We probed number-space mappings in the Mundurucu, an Amazonian indigene group with a reduced numerical lexicon and little or no formal education. At all ages, the Mundurucu mapped symbolic and nonsymbolic numbers onto a logarithmic scale, whereas Western adults used linear mapping with small or symbolic numbers and logarithmic (...) mapping when numbers were presented nonsymbolically under conditions that discouraged counting. This indicates that the mapping of numbers onto space is a universal intuition and that this initial intuition of number is logarithmic. The concept of a linear number line appears to be a cultural invention that fails to develop in the absence of formal education. (shrink)
Amidst the many brain events evoked by a visual stimulus, which are specifically associated with conscious perception, and which merely reflect non-conscious processing? Several recent neuroimaging studies have contrasted conscious and non-conscious visual processing, but their results appear inconsistent. Some support a correlation of conscious perception with early occipital events, others with late parieto-frontal activity. Here we attempt to make sense of those dissenting results. On the basis of a minimal neuro-computational model, the global neuronal workspace hypothesis, we propose a (...) taxonomy which distinguishes between vigilance and access to conscious report, as well as between subliminal, preconscious and conscious processing. We suggest that these distinctions map onto different neural mechanisms, and that conscious perception is systematically associated with a sudden surge of parieto-frontal activity causing top-down amplification. (shrink)
Does geometry constitute a core set of intuitions present in all humans, regardless of their language or schooling? We used two nonverbal tests to probe the conceptual primitives of geometry in the Mundurukú, an isolated Amazonian indigene group. Mundurukú children and adults spontaneously made use of basic geometric concepts such as points, lines, parallelism, or right angles to detect intruders in simple pictures, and they used distance, angle, and sense relationships in geometrical maps to locate hidden objects. Our results provide (...) evidence for geometrical intuitions in the absence of schooling, experience with graphic symbols or maps, or a rich language of geometrical terms. (shrink)
Is calculation possible without language? Or is the human ability for arithmetic dependent on the language faculty? To clarify the relation between language and arithmetic, we studied numerical cognition in speakers of Mundurukú, an Amazonian language with a very small lexicon of number words. Although the Mundurukú lack words for numbers beyond 5, they are able to compare and add large approximate numbers that are far beyond their naming range. However, they fail in exact arithmetic with numbers larger than 4 (...) or 5. Our results imply a distinction between a nonverbal system of number approximation and a language-based counting system for exact number and arithmetic. (shrink)
Subjects classified visible 2-digit numbers as larger or smaller than 55. Target numbers were preceded by masked 2-digit primes that were either congruent (same relation to 55) or incongruent. Experiments 1 and 2 showed prime congruency effects for stimuli never included in the set of classified visible targets, indicating subliminal priming based on long-term semantic memory. Experiments 2 and 3 went further to demonstrate paradoxical unconscious priming effects resulting from task context. For example, after repeated practice classifying 73 as larger (...) than 55, the novel masked prime 37 paradoxically facilitated the “larger” response. In these experiments task context could induce subjects to unconsciously process only the leftmost masked prime digit, only the rightmost digit, or both independently. Across 3 experiments, subliminal priming was governed by both task context and long-term semantic memory. (shrink)
Quartz & Sejnowski's (Q&S's) constructivist manifesto promotes a return to an extreme form of empiricism. In defense of learning by selection, we argue that at the neurobiological level all the data presented by Q&S in support of their constructive model are in fact compatible with a model comprising multiple overlapping stages of synaptic overproduction and selection. We briefly review developmental studies at the behavioral level in humans providing evidence in favor of a selectionist view of development.