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Cogn Psychol. 2006 Mar;52(2):130-69. Epub 2005 Dec 20.

Re-visiting the competence/performance debate in the acquisition of the counting principles.

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Harvard University, USA.


Advocates of the "continuity hypothesis" have argued that innate non-verbal counting principles guide the acquisition of the verbal count list (Gelman & Galistel, 1978). Some studies have supported this hypothesis, but others have suggested that the counting principles must be constructed anew by each child. Defenders of the continuity hypothesis have argued that the studies that failed to support it obscured children's understanding of counting by making excessive demands on their fragile counting skills. We evaluated this claim by testing two-, three-, and four-year-olds both on "easy" tasks that have supported continuity and "hard" tasks that have argued against it. A few noteworthy exceptions notwithstanding, children who failed to show that they understood counting on the hard tasks also failed on the easy tasks. Therefore, our results are consistent with a growing body of evidence that shows that the count list as a representation of the positive integers transcends pre-verbal representations of number.

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