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Toddlers grasp numbers one level beyond their knowledge

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  • Written by

    Dr. Nora Preuss Mattsson

  • Read time

    3 min

Understanding how young children learn numbers is a fascinating journey in developmental psychology. Recent research has shed light on the world of small-number subset-knowers, offering intriguing insights into how these young minds perceive and identify small numbers.  

At Uppsala Child and Babylab, researchers performed a study involving 133 children between 2.6 and 4 years old. They conducted an eye tracking task to investigate how these kids recognize and identify different quantities. Using the
Tobii Pro eye tracker and software, the children were presented with sets of items ranging from 1 to 4. Two sets were displayed simultaneously, and the kids were asked to find a particular set (e.g. ‘Look [‘dots’ or ‘cars’]! Can you find [‘one’, ‘two’, ‘three’, ‘four’]?). The researchers were interested in first gaze, an implicit measurement of number recognition.  

The results showed that small-number subset-knowers could identify all presented targets at rates above chance. Interestingly, 1-knowers were comfortable identifying 1 and 2 but struggled to identify 3 and 4. 2-knowers or above could identify all targets above chance. The results tentatively suggest that there might be an upper limit and that subset-knowers might possess an approximate understanding of numbers close to their current level of knowledge (knower level +1).  

Understanding numbers is crucial to early development, impacting school readiness, academic achievement, and future success across various domains. Eye tracking is an optimal tool for investigating small children's grasp of small numbers. By precisely capturing where the gaze fixates, researchers can gain deeper insights into the developmental stages of children’s numerical cognition.  

Cited publication

Gerbrand, A., Gredebäck, G., Lindskog, M. (2023). Recognition of small numbers in subset knowers Cardinal knowledge in early childhood. Royal Society Open Science 10.

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Resource Details

  • Written by

    Dr. Nora Preuss Mattsson

  • Read time

    3 min

    Resource type

    • Scientific publications

    Tagged products

    • Eye trackers

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    • Scientific research

Author

  • Tobii employee

    Dr. Nora Preuss Mattsson

    Research Scientist

    Dr. Preuss Mattsson is a research scientist with a passion for advancing research methodologies and practices. 

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