Higher-math skills entwined with lower-order magnitude sense

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The ability to learn complex, symbolic math is a uniquely human trait, but it is intricately connected to a primitive sense of magnitude that is shared by many animals, finds a study to be published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


“Our results clearly show that uniquely human branches of mathematics interface with an evolutionarily primitive general magnitude system,” says lead author Stella Lourenco, a psychologist at Emory University. “We were able to show how variations in both advanced arithmetic and geometry skills specifically correlated with variations in our intuitive sense of magnitude.”

Babies as young as six months can roughly distinguish between less and more, whether it’s for a number of objects, the size of objects, or the length of time they see the objects. This intuitive, non-verbal sense of magnitude, which may be innate, has also been demonstrated in non-human animals. When given a choice between a group of five bananas or two bananas, for example, monkeys will tend to take the bigger bunch.

“It’s obviously of adaptive value for all animals to be able to discriminate between less and more,” Lourenco says. “The ability is widespread across the animal kingdom — fish, rodents and even insects show sensitivity to magnitude, such as the number of items in a set of objects.”

Written By: ScienceDaily
continue to source article at sciencedaily.com

4 COMMENTS

  1. I guess I have no sense of magnitude because I suck at math and have no idea what the hell the author means by magnitude. May as well read—”Higher-math skills entwined with lower-order biggyness sense”
    Shame, seems pointless to read on.

  2. Of course! The organism that saw two bears go into a cave and only one come out and then thought to make the cave his own left no descendents. Or, eating  five bananas instead of two bananas would definitely be beneficial to the organism that could tell the difference

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