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Cognition. 2006 Jan;98(3):199-222. Epub 2005 Mar 5.

Non-symbolic arithmetic in adults and young children.

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  • 1Laboratory for Developmental Studies, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland St., Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Five experiments investigated whether adults and preschool children can perform simple arithmetic calculations on non-symbolic numerosities. Previous research has demonstrated that human adults, human infants, and non-human animals can process numerical quantities through approximate representations of their magnitudes. Here we consider whether these non-symbolic numerical representations might serve as a building block of uniquely human, learned mathematics. Both adults and children with no training in arithmetic successfully performed approximate arithmetic on large sets of elements. Success at these tasks did not depend on non-numerical continuous quantities, modality-specific quantity information, the adoption of alternative non-arithmetic strategies, or learned symbolic arithmetic knowledge. Abstract numerical quantity representations therefore are computationally functional and may provide a foundation for formal mathematics.

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