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)
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)
For many centuries, philosophers and scientists have pondered the origins and nature of human intuitions about the properties of points, lines, and figures on the Euclidean plane, with most hypothesizing that a system of Euclidean concepts either is innate or is assembled by general learning processes. Recent research from cognitive and developmental psychology, cognitive anthropology, animal cognition, and cognitive neuroscience suggests a different view. Knowledge of geometry may be founded on at least two distinct, evolutionarily ancient, core cognitive systems for (...) representing the shapes of large-scale, navigable surface layouts and of small-scale, movable forms and objects. Each of these systems applies to some but not all perceptible arrays and captures some but not all of the three fundamental Euclidean relationships of distance (or length), angle, and direction (or sense). Like natural number (Carey, 2009), Euclidean geometry may be constructed through the productive combination of representations from these core systems, through the use of uniquely human symbolic systems. (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.
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)
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)