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Numerical cognition

Numerical cognition is a major area of cognitive psychology which deals with the study of cognitive and developmental bases of numbers. This discipline aims to better understand how the brain processes numerical information. It is primarily concerned with how infants obtain their general understanding of numbers, how we are able to associate words with numbers to help us in performing complex calculations, and how we are able to extend our knowledge on finite numbers to something infinite like the concepts introduced in advanced mathematics.

Scientists specializing in numerical cognition are also interested in the abilities of other animals to develop an approximate sense of number. In fact, most experimental studies are done on animals, i. e. primates, lions, rats. In one study, (Dehaene 1997) a rat is trained to press a bar a certain number of times for food. It has been concluded that this number follows the normal distribution, which proves that even rats have an approximate sense of number. This is regardless whether the rat is hungry or not. When it is hungry, it only presses the bar more rapidly.

Experimental studies were also performed on humans, particularly in infants. Infants were found to be able to distinguish sets of numbers (Feigenson, Dehaene & Spelke 2004). In another study, neuroscientists were able to prove that infants can do simple additions and subtractions. Their study consists of hiding dolls one by one. When the cover is lifted, infants as young as four months old have the tendency to search longer when the number of dolls uncovered doesn’t add up to the total dolls that were supposed to be hidden. Aside from these experiments, there were also researches that involved high-tech neuroimaging techniques.

Neuroimages show how that the intraparietal lobes in the brain house that region tasked to perform numerical cognitive functions (Piazza et al. 2004). The inferior parietal lobes on the other hand stores learned numerical tasks such as multiplication. Damages to this area of the brain may render the person incapable of such tasks but still able to do simple additions and subtractions. The above methods to study cognitive science have their own strengths and weaknesses. Experimental studies are conclude with macro and empirical findings while using advanced neuroscience technologies can help better understand the anatomy of the brain.

Alone, these methods may prove to be insufficient, but when combined, their results complement each other and will lead us to further our knowledge in numerical cognition.

References Dehaene, S. (1997), written at New York, The number sense: How the mind creates mathematics, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195132408, <http://www. unicog. org> Feigenson, L. ; S. Dehaene & E. Spelke (2004), “Core systems of number”, Trends in Cognitive Science 8 (7): 307-314 Piazza, M. ; V. Izard & P. Pinel et al. (2004), “Tuning curves for approximate numerosity in the human intraparietal sulcus”, Neuron 44: 547-555

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