Study: People May Be Born Good (or Bad) at Math

If you struggled through high school algebra, you probably thought you simply weren’t born good at math. You might have been right, at least according to a new study by Johns Hopkins University psychologists that suggests that math ability is linked to your inborn “number sense.” Also known as “approximate number system,” number sense is inherent in all animals including humans. It’s what we use to instantly estimate how many people are in a meeting or how many free seats are in a movie theater. Animals use it to figure out where the most plants or game are and to track how much food they’ve gathered. Now scientists have measured number sense in preschoolers — who are too young to have received any formal math education — and linked it to performance of tests of math ability. “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,” said study author Melissa Libertus in a statement. MORE: Back-to-School Special: 5 Tips on Picking a Good School Past research has associated number sense with math ability in older children, but the Libertus and her team’s study involved 200 younger children with an average age of 4. The children were given number sense test that involved viewing groups of blue and yellow dots on a computer screen and estimating which color group had more dots. (You can take the test here.) Each child then took math ability tests consisting of numbering skills (verbally counting items on a page), numeral literacy (reading Arabic numbers), calculation skills (solving addition and subtraction problems) and other abilities. Kids who did better at estimating the dots in the first test also did better at the math tests, the researchers found, suggesting that at least some math ability may be linked to one’s inborn number sense. The study authors also gave the kids tests of general intelligence to rule … Continue reading Study: People May Be Born Good (or Bad) at Math

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