Babies barely a few hours old think of numbers as abstract concepts

June 9th, 2009 - 3:06 pm ICT by ANI  

London, June 9 (ANI): Harvard University researchers say that babies barely a few hours old seem to possess the ability to think of numbers as abstract concepts.

Lead researcher Veronique Izard describes abstract numerical thought as the ability to perceive numbers as entities, independently of specific things.

The researcher says that this ability can be shown by the humans’ capacity to link a certain number of objects to the same number of sounds, irrespective of what the specific sounds or objects are.

However, no scientist had previously determined whether this ability is innate or learnt through culture or language.

Izard said that with a view to investigating that question, the research team worked with 16 newborns, whose ages ranged from 7 to 100 hours.

During the study, each baby was first played a 2-minute tape that contained spoken syllables, such as “ra ra ra ra me me me me”.

The researchers later showed the babies, with the tape playing in the background, a sequence of images with abstract geometrical objects, in which each alternate image had the number of objects that tallied with the number of syllables.

They found that 15 of 16 newborns looked significantly longer at the correct image.

“This is telling us that babies, within a couple of hours after they are born, have a very abstract representation of numbers that applies similarly to visual and audio stimuli,” New Scientist magazine quoted Izard as saying.

The researcher points out that an earlier study found that babies a few months old, who were played two voices, paid more attention to a video of two rather than three faces.

However, according to the researcher, in the present study, the babies might just have learnt to link faces with voices.

A research article on the study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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