Number-space mapping in human infants

Abstract

Mature representations of number are built on a core system of numerical representation that connects to spatial representations in the form of a ‘mental number line’. The core number system is functional in early infancy, but little is known about the origins of the mapping of numbers onto space. Here we show that preverbal infants transfer the discrimination of an ordered series of numerosities to the discrimination of an ordered series of line lengths. Moreover, infants construct relationships between individual numbers and line lengths that vary positively, but not between numbers and lengths that vary inversely. These findings provide evidence for an early developing predisposition to relate representations of numerical magnitude and spatial length. A central foundation of mathematics, science and technology therefore emerges prior to experience with language, symbol systems, or measurement devices.

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