TO BE OR NOT TO BE: AN INFORMATIVE NON-SYMBOLIC NUMERICAL MAGNITUDE PROCESSING STUDY ABOUT SMALL VERSUS LARGE NUMBERS IN INFANTS

Annelies CEULEMANS, Tom LOEYS, Karel HOPPENBROUWERS, Annemie DESOETE

Abstract


Many studies tested the association between
numerical magnitude processing and
mathematical achievement with conflicting
findings reported for individuals with
mathematical learning disorders. Some of the
inconsistencies might be explained by the
number of non-symbolic stimuli or dot
collections used in studies. It has been
hypothesized that there is an object-file system
for ‘small’ and an analogue magnitude system
for ‘large’ numbers. This two-system account
has been supported by the set size limit of the
object-file system (three items).

A boundary was defined, accordingly,
categorizing numbers below four as ‘small’
and from four and above as ‘large’. However,
data on ‘small’ number processing and on the
‘boundary’ between small and large numbers
are missing. In this contribution we provide
data from infants discriminating between the
number sets 4 vs. 8 and 1 vs. 4, both
containing the number four combined with a
small and a large number respectively.
Participants were 25 and 26 full term 9-
month-olds for 4 vs. 8 and 1 vs. 4
respectively. The stimuli (dots) were
controlled for continuous variables. Eyetracking
was combined with the habituation
paradigm. The results showed that the infants
were successful in discriminating 1 from 4,
but failed to discriminate 4 from 8 dots. This
finding supports the assumption of the
number four as a ‘small’ number and enlarges
the object-file system’s limit. This study
might help to explain inconsistencies in
studies. Moreover, the information may be
useful in answering parent’s questions about
challenges that vulnerable children with
number processing problems, such as children
with mathematical learning disorders, might
encounter. In addition, the study might give
some information on the stimuli that can be
used to effectively foster children’s
magnitude processing skills.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2478/jser-2014-0005

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