Human infants are born with an innate mathematical ability that allows them to count large numbers of objects more easily than groups of two or three. A new study of 4.5 month old infants' "number sense" suggests that emphasizing language before numbers is the wrong way to teach kids about the world. Babies can figure out when there's been a change in the number of a large group of objects before they can understand language. Therefore communicating with toddlers via numbers could become the best way to shape young minds.

The study of babies' math skills — which did involve silly EEG hats like the one above — also revealed something more general about human brains. When we look at a group of objects, different parts of our brains process the number of objects and the type of objects. So we recognize how many duckies there are with a different brain region than the one that recognizes that we are looking at duckies.


Says a release about the study:

Behavioral experiments indicate that infants aged 4 ½ months or older possess an early "number sense" that allows them to detect changes in the number of objects. However, the neural basis of this ability was previously unknown. This week in the online journal PLoS Biology, Véronique Izard, Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz, and Stanislas Dehaene provide brain imaging evidence showing that very young infants are sensitive to both the number and identity of objects, and these pieces of information are processed by distinct neural pathways.

Distinct Neural Pathways for Object Identity and Number in Young Infants [PLoS Biology]