Research conducted by the scientific teams at the University of Oregon and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel has shown that infants as young as six months can do simple math in their heads (see our previous story about this research collaborative):
The infants were shown one or two dolls in a videotaped puppet theater. Their view was then blocked briefly and the number of dolls was left unchanged, or one was added or removed. As in the earlier research, the infants looked longer when the screen was removed and the number of dolls differed from the previous exposure.
In this new case, however, the infants wore special brain-monitoring netting manufactured by Electrical Geodesic Inc., a University of Oregon spin-off company. The 128-electrode netting allowed for much more extensive brain-wave monitoring than was available previously.
The data was analyzed at the University of Oregon. The mean time for infants who saw the same number of dolls before and after was 6.94 seconds. They held their gaze longer (8.04 seconds) when the number of dolls differed. The time of measurement ended when a child looked away from the display.
The findings were published this week online ahead of publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They provide clarity to the scientific debate that surfaced soon after Karen Wynn, a Yale University psychologist, first published her results in Nature (Dec. 31, 1992), said Michael I. Posner, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon.
“The research tends to confirm that the varying looking times of the infants are due to a deviation in their expectations,” Posner said. “It also shows that the same anatomy exists in infants as in adults.” The latter point, he said, goes against the idea that basic changes in brain anatomy occur between infancy and adulthood.
“A bigger consequence for us,” he said, “is that the origin of the executive attention system must go back to infancy.” Research previously had indicated that this system, which is related to decision-making and task switching, does not develop until a child is 2.5 years of age.