Letter | Published:

Addition and subtraction by human infants

Naturevolume 358pages749750 (1992) | Download Citation

Subjects

  • An Erratum to this article was published on 31 December 1992
  • An Erratum to this article was published on 28 January 1993

Abstract

HUMAN infants can discriminate between different small numbers of items1–4, and can determine numerical equivalence across perceptual modalities5,6. This may indicate the possession of true numerical concepts1,4–7. Alternatively, purely perceptual discriminations may underlie these abilities8,9. This debate addresses the nature of subitization, the ability to quantify small numbers of items without conscious counting10,11. Subitization may involve the holistic recognition of canonical perceptual patterns that do not reveal ordinal relationships between the numbers12, or may instead be an iterative or 'counting' process that specifies these numerical relationships4,13. Here I show that 5-month-old infants can calculate the results of simple arithmetical operations on small numbers of items. This indicates that infants possess true numerical concepts, and suggests that humans are innately endowed with arithmetical abilities. It also suggests that subitization is a process that encodes ordinal information, not a pattern-recognition process yielding non-numerical percepts.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1

    Starkey, P. & Cooper, R. G. Science 210, 1033–1035 (1980).

  2. 2

    Strauss, M. S. & Curtis, L. E. Child Dev. 52, 1146–1152 (1981).

  3. 3

    Antell, S. & Keating, D. P. Child Dev. 54, 695–701 (1983).

  4. 4

    van Loosbroek, E. & Smitsman, A. W. Devl Psychol. 26, 916–922 (1990).

  5. 5

    Starkey, P., Spelke, E. S. & Gelman, R. Science 222, 179–181 (1983).

  6. 6

    Starkey, P., Spelke, E. S. & Gelman, R. Cognition 36, 97–127 (1990).

  7. 7

    Wynn, K. Mind Lang. (in the press).

  8. 8

    Davis, H., Albert, M. & Barron, R. W. Science 228, 1222 (1985).

  9. 9

    Cooper, R. G. in Origins of Cognitive Skills 157–192 (ed. Sophian, C.) (Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey, 1984).

  10. 10

    Chi, M. T. H. & Klahr, D. J. exp. Child Psychol. 19, 434–439 (1975).

  11. 11

    Silverman, I. W. & Rose, A. P. Devl Psychol. 16, 539–540 (1980).

  12. 12

    Mandler, G. & Shebo, B. J. J. exp. Psychol. Gen. 11, 1–22 (1982).

  13. 13

    Gallistel, C. R. The Organization of Learning 343–348 (MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1990).

  14. 14

    Spelke, E. S. in Perceptual Development in Infancy: Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology Vol. 20 (ed. Yonas, A.) 197–234 (Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey, 1988).

  15. 15

    Spelke, E. S., Cog. Science 14, 29–56 (1990).

  16. 16

    Baillargeon, R. Cognition 38, 13–42 (1991).

  17. 17

    Baillargeon, R. & DeVos, J. Child Dev. 62, 1227–1246 (1991).

  18. 18

    Wynn, K. Cog. Psychol. 24, 220–251 (1992).

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, 85721, USA

    • Karen Wynn

Authors

  1. Search for Karen Wynn in:

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Issue Date

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/358749a0

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.