One of the basic elements of cognition―the ability to estimate quantities―grows more precise across the first 30 years or more of a person's life, according to researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health.
This intuitive grasp of numbers, also called an approximate number sense, or ANS, is tied to concrete math skills at every stage of life, the researchers found.
Previously, the researchers have reported that ninth graders with a math disability were more likely to have an imprecise number sense. They also have found a correlation between an inherent grasp of quantity and such basic number skills as counting among children as young as 3 years old.
The new finding that the ANS grows sharper from birth through a person's childhood, teens, and twenties also suggests the possibility that environmental factors, such as education, may influence the strength of the ANS and that education could help improve it. Because ANS proficiency is linked to math ability, instruction to improve the ANS might be used to prevent the development of math learning disability or help remediate this disability, the researchers said.
"People who struggle with a math learning disability may also struggle with day-to-day tasks such as estimating a bill or judging calories as part of a diet," said Kathy Mann Koepke, Ph.D., of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the NIH institute that supported the study. "Research shows that differences in math ability in school can have a large impact on later health, as well as income, over a lifetime."
First author Justin Halberda, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, conducted the research with Hopkins colleagues Ryan Ly and Daniel Q. Naiman, Ph.D., Jeremy B. Wilmer, Ph.D., of Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., and Laura Germine, Ph.D., of Harvard University, Camb
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NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development