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Cognition. 2009 Jun;111(3):302-16. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.01.011. Epub 2009 Mar 25.

Infants' auditory enumeration: evidence for analog magnitudes in the small number range.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA. vanmarlek@missouri.edu


Vigorous debate surrounds the issue of whether infants use different representational mechanisms to discriminate small and large numbers. We report evidence for ratio-dependent performance in infants' discrimination of small numbers of auditory events, suggesting that infants can use analog magnitudes to represent small values, at least in the auditory domain. Seven-month-old infants in the present study reliably discriminated two from four tones (a 1:2 ratio) in Experiment 1, when melodic and continuous temporal properties of the sequences were controlled, but failed to discriminate two from three tones (a 2:3 ratio) under the same conditions in Experiment 2. A third experiment ruled out the possibility that infants in Experiment 1 were responding to greater melodic variety in the four-tone sequences. The discrimination function obtained here is the same as that found for infants' discrimination of large numbers of visual and auditory items at a similar age, as well as for that obtained for similar-aged infants' duration discriminations, and thus adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that human infants may share with adults and nonhuman animals a mechanism for representing quantities as "noisy" mental magnitudes.

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