# Study: Math Whizzes Can Be Spotted Early

Author: Steve Woods
Published: August 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm
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According to new research, budding Einsteins might be able to be spotted in their toddler years.

Psychologists at Johns Hopkins University tested 200 children, to determine whether or not they could accurately measure their mathematical abilities at such a young age. Their findings suggest that even as early as 3 years of age, our children have a pretty good grasp at estimating numbers.

The inherent ability to estimate numbers, measured using a concept known as the Approximate Number System, is found not only in all human children, but also in non-human animals, such as ants, who have been found to chemically transfer to others just how many other ants they had encountered in their travels. Elephants and rhesus monkeys have been found to perform rudimentary arithmetic, and pigeons are capable of outperforming some of us on probability puzzles.

Of course, more formal (and complex) mathematical abilities are still only the realm of human beings. Well, at least we’re pretty sure of it. Previous studies with regard to mathematical acuity were performed only on individuals who had already acquired some measure of math training and use. Johns Hopkins researchers Melissa Libertus, Lisa Feigenson and Justin Halberda sought to determine if mathematical ability could be found very early in life.

Libertus and her team used a problem that did not necessarily require any addition or usage of a mathematical symbol. They rapidly flashed groups of blue and yellow dots on a computer monitor, and asked the 3-5 year olds to estimate which color group had more dots. Because the flash was so rapid, the children were unable to actually count the dots; rather they had to use a “gut feel,” or number “sense.”

Results from the testing, printed in the recent issue of Developmental Science, appear to show an accurate measure of early mathematical ability. Those children whose number sense was more accurate were also found to outperform other children on simple math problems, such as counting, arithmetic and number identification.

It’s not known if your baby’s future preschool or kindergarten might try to measure his or her ability to estimate flashing dots. What is known, however, is that the earlier we can find a mind nimbly grasping mathematical concepts, the better we can be at providing enriching activities to support this affinity.