Babies Can Process Numbers Before They Can Count ⋆

Babies Can Process Numbers Before They Can Count

For anyone who spends time with a new parent, you’ll probably lose count of how many times they tell you just how smart their kid. Among all of the eye-rolling and laughing at their grandiose claims, though, it turns out that there might be some method to their boasts about their children.

Indeed, did you know that babies are actually able to process numbers long before they learn how to count?

You might see a child using their fingers to go through the good old 1-10 count, and you might think it’s adorable. But while they might look as if they are learning about numbers for the first time, scientists believe otherwise. They believe that the children can understand that numbers are about quantity – they might not know how to wield them yet, but they can grasp their general purpose.

Indeed, research staff at the John Hopkins University carried out a study that involved 16 babies, aged 14-18 months. In this research, the went through five experiments to evaluate each of their ability to work with numbers. The aim was to see if they recognized that the act of counting was related to numbers at all.

The babies would react to various objects and toys, and they could put their hands through a fall fabric slit. This would then allow the team to easily swap in and out of objects, using “this” and “these” as the catch-all terms. They would also have the children count the objects before they went inside the little box.

The children seemed to understand that when they were counting, they would expect a specific number of objects to come out of the box. If numbers were not used, though, and they simply used “this” and “these”, the children would soon lose interest once the first toys were removed.

A truly remarkable find

Jenny Wang, the co-author of the study, and a John Hopkins graduate told Newsweek: “Our finding shows an early sensitivity to counting that is present in infants that are years away from fully understand the meanings of count words.

“However, it does not suggest that infants understand any specific count words earlier than we thought. Instead, we believe that this early sensitivity we found in infants serves as the foundation for children’s later learning of the exact use of counting in figuring out quantities in the world,”

This study is useful ammo for anyone who believes that children can start thinking in more abstract terms from their youngest age. Indeed, many believe that children can only start tackling abstract thought when they are around 7 years of age. This study, though, shines a different light on that particular conclusion.

While this is only one study, it’s a very interesting discussion opener for anyone interested in the development of children. Adjustment, especially with numbers, might be able to start much younger than you first realized!