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John Hopkins Study: Innate Number Sense Correlates to Math Achievement

Psychologists from John Hopkins University recently published a study that shows a correlation between innate number sense and math achievement in school.

To measure number sense the authors showed 14-year-old children images of blue and yellow dots and asked the child if there were more blue dots or yellow dots. The images were shown for less than a second so the students could not count them and instead had to estimate which group had more. Most students did well when one group was significantly bigger, but some students were much better when the difference was smaller.

Math Correlation Study

The researchers then looked at each child’s scores on several standardized math tests. The students who performed well on the number sense activity also had higher math achievement. The correlation remained even after they accounted for IQ, working memory, and several other measures of cognitive skill.

When Are Math Learning Skills Determined?

This study seems to support the common belief that math is easy for some people and harder for others. I’m not sure I buy that though. The skill measured in the estimation task develops very early in life, starting before one year. I refuse to believe that future math achievement is determined before a child can even talk.

I’d love to see a study where they took the children who struggled with the estimation task and tried to improve those skills with repeated practice. I wonder if their math achievement would improve? Perhaps age 14 is too late to try that kind of experiment but maybe it could be done with children in preschool or early elementary. That would help establish whether ability with relative estimates raises math scores by itself or whether there are additional factors at play.

What do you think?

Additionally, when it comes to math, do girls = boys?