The idea that human infants and even birds and animals possess an innate numerical ability is fascinating. Even my ‘inner-cynic’ cannot deny the research carried out on varying animals and birds is pretty amazing; though one could almost write this off as an accomplishment of training rather than any deeper numerical understanding. However, I cannot explain how, without any training, the Serengeti Lions, will only attack their prey if they are not out numbered. Hence, whilst I’m not suggesting the lion has the ability to ‘count’ his prey – the judgement based on ‘how many’ shows there is a numerical competence present....and, more importantly, it’s present without any human training. (Similar studies show, birds are aware when an egg is removed from their nests.) Karen Wynn conducted a study in 1992 into the innate numerosity of human infants, as young as three months (though further studies have looked at infants who are just days old!). Some of these experiments were recorded on video and it is quite an intriguing watch. The findings are based on the notion that young babies are less likely to look at something for a long time - if it is something that they expect to see (technically called the ‘gaze duration’). So, researchers show the babies a scenario that has both a possible outcome (what one might expect) and an impossible outcome (what one wouldn't expect.) They take a box, and the baby watches as they put Mickey Mouse into the box. Then, using a screen, they cover MM up – and show the babies another MM entering the box. Then they take down the screen. The possible scenario of course is to see two MM’s behind the screen since 1+1=2 and when the babies saw 2 MM's – they looked away/lost interest.....when the babies were shown the ‘impossible outcome’ – one MM behind the screen (even though two were put in) – they stared intently at the box (the baby on the video even had a frown on his face!) The odd and slightly confusing issue here, is - how do they know? surely the babies aren’t actually thinking - at least not in terms of 'language' thinking....and they can't draw on experience/learned behaviour......so you have to ask (and the researchers did) it is that they just naturally know it’s simply not right? This is what these reasearchers were saying, concluding that we must assume that there exists a deeper cognitive ability present even at birth.
Interesting isn't it? and I am now really wondering how much babies/young children actually do know already and how much of the current EY curriculum actually accounts for this innate knowledge?