Developmental Science

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Volume 13 Issue 2 (March 2010), Pages 265-406

Spontaneous analog number representations in 3‐year‐old children (pages 289-297)


When enumerating small sets of elements nonverbally, human infants often show a set‐size limitation whereby they are unable to represent sets larger than three elements. This finding has been interpreted as evidence that infants spontaneously represent small numbers with an object‐file system instead of an analog magnitude system (Feigenson, Dehaene & Spelke, 2004). In contrast, non‐human animals and adult humans have been shown to rely on analog magnitudes for representing both small and large numbers (Brannon & Terrace, 1998; Cantlon & Brannon, 2007; Cordes, Gelman, Gallistel & Whalen, 2001). Here we demonstrate that, like adults and non‐human animals, children as young as 3 years of age spontaneously employ analog magnitude representations to enumerate both small and large sets. Moreover, we show that children spontaneously attend to numerical value in lieu of cumulative surface area. These findings provide evidence of young children’s greater sensitivity to number relative to other quantities and demonstrate continuity in the process they spontaneously recruit to judge small and large values.

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