Studies of Babies and Mathematics

picture of a baby boy

• In one study (Starkey et al. 1990), babies between six and eight months old were shown a series of slides of either two or three-item displays. Each successive picture showed different household items that varied in size, colour and shape. Half were shown a series of two-item displays, while the other half were shown a series of three-item displays. The researchers could tell the infants eventually got bored when the amount of time they looked at the slides dropped by half. The babies were then shown displays that alternated between two and three items, and if the displays showed a different number of items from what they had seen before, the infants began to show interest by looking again. The only common characteristic within the two-item and three-item displays was their numerical value, so one could say the infants habituated to the set of two or three things, and then recovered interest when they were shown a different number of things. The infants could have focused on the items’ shape, size, but they did not. This is an important clue they are able to process information that represents a number, at a rather abstract level.

• Other researchers (Wynn, 1996) have shown infants pay attention to the number of times a toy rabbit jumps, so long as the number of jumping events they have to keep track of is kept between two and four.

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Mathematical Landmarks: Recognize key aspects of math understanding and infuse them into everyday play.