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Volume 5 Issue 2 (May 2002), Pages F1-F7, 151-264

How infants process addition and subtraction events (pages 186-201)


Three experiments are described that assess 5‐month‐old infants’ processing of addition and subtraction events similar to those reported by Wynn (1992a). In Experiment 1, prior to each test trial, one group of infants was shown an addition event (1 + 1) while another group was shown a subtraction event (2 − 1). On test trials, all infants were shown outcomes of 0, 1, 2 and 3. The results seemed to require one of two dual‐process models. One such model assumed that the infants could add and subtract but also had a tendency to look longer when more items were on the stage. The other model assumed that infants had a preference for familiarity along with the tendency to look longer when more items were on the stage. Experiments 2 and 3 examined the assumptions made by these two models. In Experiment 2, infants were given only the test trials they had received in Experiment 1. Thus, no addition and subtraction or familiarity was involved. In Experiment 3 infants were familiarized to either one or two items prior to each test trial, but experienced no actual addition or subtraction. The results of these two experiments support the familiarity plus more items to look at model more than the addition and subtraction plus more items to look at model. Taken together, these three experiments shed doubt on Wynn’s (1992a) assertion that 5‐month‐old infants can add and subtract. Instead they indicate the importance of familiarity preferences and the fact that one should be cautious before assuming that young infants have sophisticated numerical abilities.

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