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February 16, 2006

Baby can count

Quick! Give them a problem in spectral theory on infinite-dimensional Banach spaces!

A recent study reports that 7-month-old babies can do some math (or, according to the BBC, can do "maths").

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Even before babies learn to talk they have a bit of a grasp of math, according to new research concluding that infants may have an abstract sense of numerical concepts.

The research, published in this week's edition of "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," said seven-month-old babies demonstrated an ability to match the number of voices they heard to the number of faces they expected to see.

The study of 20 infants by researchers at Duke University was similar to a previous experiment done to demonstrate that monkeys show numerical perception across senses.

In the new study, babies listened either to two women simultaneously saying the word "look" or three women saying the same word.

At the same time, the infants could choose between video images of two or three women saying the word.

As they had found with the monkeys, the researchers said the babies spent significantly more time looking at the video image that matched the number of women talking.
But the babies can't shovel the B.S. the way the researchers can.
"As a result of our experiments, we conclude that the babies are showing an internal representation of 'two-ness' or three-ness' that is separate from sensory modalities and thus reflects an abstract internal process," researcher Elizabeth Brannon wrote.
As Dianna Abdala might say, blah blah blah. It sounds to me a lot like the famous story of Clever Hans, the counting horse.