Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception Institut Neurosciences Cognition Université Paris Descartes Centre National de Recherche Scientifique
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Core mathematical abilities in infants: number and much more

Adults’ ability to process numerical information can be traced back to the first days of life. The cognitive mechanisms underlying numerical representations are functional in preverbal infants, who are able to both track a small number of individuals and to estimate the numerosity of large sets across different modalities. This ability is closely linked to their ability to compute other quantitative dimensions such as spatial extent and temporal duration. In fact, the human mind establishes, early in life, spontaneous links between number, space, and time, which are privileged relative to links with other continuous dimensions (like loudness and brightness). Finally, preverbal infants do not only associate numbers to corresponding spatial extents but also to different spatial positions along a spatial axis. It is argued that these number–space mappings are at the origins of the “mental number line” representation, which is already functional in the first year of life.