Language and math are important tools that allow humans to better understand the world around them, and communicate with one another. Some cognitive scientists are interested in learning more about how children develop language skills and conceptions about basic math principles, and how the development of math and language skills in early childhood might be interrelated.
People often think about sequences of numbers as being positioned along a line, from smallest to largest. Studies show that young children think about numbers this way too, but that children may imagine the spacing of the numbers very differently than adults do. In our laboratory, we want to find out whether children think about all types of sequences (including the alphabet) spatially along a line.
In the first part of this study, children (ages 6-9) are shown a blank line on a computer screen. The line may start at zero, and end at either 10 or 1000, or start at A and end at Z, but has no labels in between. We ask children to decide where to place numbers and letters on the line (for example, “Where would the number 7 go?”). We record how closely children are able to estimate where the numbers or letters would be placed. In the second part of the study, we show children two numbers at a time on the screen and ask them to tell us which number is taller than the other. The trick is that some of the numbers will be numerically larger than others (e.g., 5 is numerically larger than 3). If children are distracted by the conflict between the physical size of the number and its magnitude, they may be slower to make their decision, and might make more mistakes.
We predict that children will become more accurate with these tasks as they grow older and gain more experience with letters and numbers.
These results will help us understand how children represent number, letters, and other sequences, and whether children imagine all types of sequences spatially along a mental number line.
Learn about other research related to Math and Language Cognition.
This research is conducted by the Infant & Child Cognition Lab at Boston College