SAGE Journal Articles

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Number Concept 

McCrink, K., & Wynn, K. (2004). Large-number addition and subtraction by 9-month-old infants. Psychological Science, 15, 776-781.


The goal for this article was to determine which of two theories regarding early number representation more accurately predicts infant’s ability to add and subtract large numbers. The authors tested 9-month-old infants using a habituation paradigm. Infants were shown either 5 (addition group) or 10 (subtraction group) objects descending from the top of the screen which moved to the side of the screen under a white rectangle. In the addition group 5 additional objects appeared and moved under the white rectangle. In the subtraction group 5 objects came out from under the white rectangle and moved off the screen. The white rectangle then moved off the screen revealing either 5 or 10 objects. On half of the trials this outcome was what would be expected (correct) while on the other trials this was unexpected (incorrect). Looking time was measured for both the correct and incorrect trials. The results support the idea that infants represent numbers using a magnitude-based estimation system that allows them to manipulate numbers.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What evidence do the authors provide that would help determine if this same pattern of results would be found for ratios smaller than 2:1?
  2. Looking time is often used with infants because it provides a non-verbal method of assessment. What are some concerns with using looking time as a dependent measure?
  3. At this point in their lives, 9-month-olds have seen many examples of addition and subtraction (e.g., toys being put away, cereal pile getting smaller as they eat), can the study here tell us anything about whether this number system is innate or learned?

Overhearing Language 

Au, T. K., Knightly, L. M., Jun, S-A., & Oh, J. S. (2002). Overhearing a language during childhood. Psychological Science, 13, 238-243.


Although most would agree that children cannot learn language just by overhearing people speak; however, this does not mean there may not be advantages for learning a language later if you have been exposed to it early on. The authors tested this hypothesis by having participants (native Spanish speakers, those who had been exposed to Spanish but did not speak the language, and a control group who may have heard Spanish words but had never really been exposed to the language) both read and speak slang words commonly used in the Spanish language. The results suggest those who were exposed to Spanish during development had less of an accent when reciting the slang words than the control group. The authors suggest these findings help shed light on the importance of being exposed to a second language early on.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Infants are born with the ability to decipher between all of the phonemes, but this ability decreases by 6-months and is virtually gone by 9-months. Would it matter when children are exposed to a second language or for how long?
  2. The control group, although they had not been exposed regularly to Spanish, were all living in the greater Los Angeles area and had therefore been exposed to some Spanish. How much exposure do you think would be necessary to see an advantage?
  3. Often times children who are exposed to a second language growing up are also exposed to a different culture. How might the idea of cultural heritage play into their ability to learn the language later on?