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Trouble With Math? Blame Your Lack of 'Numbers Sense'

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Some children are born with natural math ability, while others aren't, a new study contends.

Johns Hopkins University researchers tested the "number sense" of 200 preschool children whose average age was 4.

The tests included having the kids look at groups of blue and yellow dots flashed onto a computer screen and guess which group had more dots.

Kids were also tested on their math abilities, such as counting out loud and solving addition problems.

Children who were the best at the "numbers sense" tests also tended to be better at the math skills tests. Because the kids had not had yet formal math instruction, researchers concluded that math ability in preschool children is strongly associated with their inborn "number sense."

Number sense is basic to many animals. For example, creatures that hunt and gather food use it to calculate where they can find the most food. People use it daily to estimate such things as the number of people in a meeting or the number of available seats in a theater, the study authors explained.

Previous research already established a link between number sense and math ability in adolescents.

"The relationship between 'number sense' and math ability is important and intriguing because we believe that 'number sense' is universal, whereas math ability has been thought to be highly dependent on culture and language and takes many years to learn," study leader Melissa Libertus, a post-doctoral fellow in the department of psychological and brain sciences, said in a university news release.

"Thus, a link between the two is surprising and raises many important questions and issues, including one of the most important ones, which is whether we can train a child's number sense with an eye to improving his future math ability."

The study was published online in a recent issue of the journal Developmental Science.

More information

The Ontario Ministry of Education outlines how parents can help their children learn math.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University, news release, August 2011

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