Study: Infants recognize counting as numerically relevant

brown numbers cutout decors

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We play a game: One of us parents will count to five and say that number of fingers are coming after you and tickle Fleur. (My wife does to five and tickles with both hands. I will to five & use one hand or ten &use both.) In true dopamine fashion the smile is largest in the middle (three and eight). It did make me wonder if she recognized the words, but that apparently comes around 3-4 however there is evidence that starting around 14 months they have an approximate numerical system that allows them to recognize it.

Children do not understand the meanings of count words like “two” and “three” until the preschool years. But even before knowing the meanings of these individual words, might they still recognize that counting is “about” the dimension of number? Here in five experiments, we asked whether infants already associate counting with quantities. We measured 14‐ and 18‐month olds’ ability to remember different numbers of hidden objects that either were or were not counted by an experimenter before hiding. As in previous research, we found that infants failed to differentiate four hidden objects from two when the objects were not counted—suggesting an upper limit on the number of individual objects they could represent in working memory. However, infants succeeded when the objects were simply counted aloud before hiding. We found that counting also helped infants differentiate four hidden objects from six (a 2:3 ratio), but not three hidden objects from four (a 3:4 ratio), suggesting that counting helped infants represent the arrays’ approximate cardinalities. Hence counting directs infants’ attention to numerical aspects of the world, showing that they recognize counting as numerically relevant years before acquiring the meanings of number words.

Experiment one: The infants watched a demonstration of putting items in a box some while counted and others using “this” instead of counting. Then the researcher had the child do the task on sometimes two or four objects (two in front and two in back). They measured the search time and found the children searched longer for the two when counted. The supposition here is the counting primed working memory for four items. Or setting a summary representation array using an approximate number system (ANS).

Experiment two: In this one, the researchers teased out the efficacy of the ANS . The two tasks were both counted prior to hiding. This time the search time was measured after the first two were found. In the other, the search time was measure after the third was retrieved. If ANS were used, then they should not distinguish between 3 and 4, which was the result.

Experiment three: The number of objects was increased to 4 and 6 as it should exceed the capability of working memory. It confirmed ANS is likely the component in play.

Experiment four: Same procedures as three but measured like two.

I would love to see this have with more kids and replicated.

Wang, Jinjing & Feigenson, Lisa. (2019). Infants recognize counting as numerically relevant. Developmental Science. 10.1111/desc.12805.



“Hulk Challenge on Threadless” by Juliana Rojas is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The wife, Galahad, and I are all Marvel fans. Fleur’s first movie was Avenger: Infinity War. (She wore headphones and slept all the way to the credits.) Her birth announcement was a photo of us, her ultrasound, and a Hulk onesie.

Maybe we should have picked another superhero? Someone wise and measured and not associated with, “Hulk smash!” I am not normally one to subscribe to superstition, but it certainly feels like another onesie could have produced a less forceful child when she doesn’t get her way.

Then again, maybe one of her parents has too much affinity for smashing.

Washing machines can spread bacteria

A children’s hospital found that a antibiotic-resistant pathogen was spreading in their facility and evading their efforts to squelch it. They ended up finding that the culprit was their washing machines. They found it in the detergent drawer and on the door seal of the washing machine.

They are warning that it can happen in residential homes too. Apparently they replaced the machine. Though, when they say they disposed of the machine, I hope that doesn’t mean they put it in surplus where it or contaminated parts end up on the market to end up in someone’s home or laundromat.

Prehistoric Baby Bottles

close up of milk against blue background

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Some researchers are claiming artifacts discovered in Bavaria are ancient baby bottle. They have very narrow spouts, residue confirmed to be ruminant milk, and were found in child graves.

From one of the project partners:

Bringing up babies in prehistory was not an easy task. We are interested in researching cultural practices of mothering, which had profound implications for the survival of babies. It is fascinating to be able to see, for the first time, which foods these vessels contained.

Prima manducare

halloween candies

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Part of parenting seems to be to tasting foods given to our children. We get that taste in before it is put in front of the child. Call it a toll or tithe.

My wife still does it to Galahad before letting him have an interesting new drink or dish. Or one that she likes but did not get.

They argue about whether or not she took too much. She calls it a bite or sip. He calls it a mouthful or guzzle.

He also complains about her taking the best candy from his Halloween exploits.

Primarily, he is suffering from loss aversion. He envisioned having it. Only now Mama is taking it away from him and diminishing the value.

Sharing is caring

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In encouraging Fleur to eat new foods, I often give her something I am eating. When she falters at consuming her meal, I often eat some of hers and make yummy sounds with the idea of showing it is safe to eat.

This safe to eat approach is based on evolutionary theory that children pay attention to what parents eat to determine what is safe. She would look dubious at some things we gave her that we also were not. And then she also demanded things we had in front of us.

The eating and saying yummy has backfired because when she is done, she now holds it out to me to eat. No one else. Just me.

Recently, this has morphed into her feeding me. She will put food next to my mouth until I eat it. Of course, these are foods given to her to eat that she stopped consuming.

At least the food doesn’t go to waste.