The relative salience of discrete and continuous quantity in young infants.


Journal Article

Whether human infants spontaneously represent number remains contentious. Clearfield & Mix (1999) and Feigenson, Carey & Spelke (2002) put forth evidence that when presented with small sets of 1-3 items infants may preferentially attend to continuous properties of stimuli rather than to number, and these results have been interpreted as evidence that infants may not have numerical competence. Here we present three experiments that test the hypothesis that infants prefer to represent continuous variables over number. In Experiment 1, we attempt to replicate the Clearfield & Mix study with a larger sample of infants. Although we replicated their finding that infants attend to changes in contour length, infants in our study attended to number and perimeter/area simultaneously. In Experiments 2 and 3, we pit number against continuous extent for exclusively large sets (Experiment 2) and for small and large sets combined (Experiment 3). In all three experiments, infants noticed the change in number, suggesting that representing discrete quantity is not a last resort for human infants. These results should temper the conclusion that infants find continuous properties more salient than number and instead suggest that number is spontaneously represented by young infants, even when other cues are available.

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Cordes, S; Brannon, EM

Published Date

  • April 2009

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 12 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 453 - 463

PubMed ID

  • 19371370

Pubmed Central ID

  • 19371370

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1467-7687

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1363-755X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2008.00781.x


  • eng