Understanding the mapping between numerical approximation and number words

Evidence from Williams syndrome and typical development

Melissa E. Libertus, Lisa Feigenson, Justin Halberda, Barbara Landau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

All numerate humans have access to two systems of number representation: an exact system that is argued to be based on language and that supports formal mathematics, and an Approximate Number System (ANS) that is present at birth and appears independent of language. Here we examine the interaction between these two systems by comparing the profiles of people with Williams syndrome (WS) with those of typically developing children between ages 4 and 9 years. WS is a rare genetic deficit marked by fluent and well-structured language together with severe spatial deficits, deficits in formal math, and abnormalities of the parietal cortex, which is thought to subserve the ANS. One of our tasks, requiring approximate number comparison but no number words, revealed that the ANS precision of adolescents with WS was in the range of typically developing 2- to 4-year-olds. Their precision improved with age but never reached the level of typically developing 6- or 9-year-olds. The second task, requiring verbal number estimation using number words, revealed that the estimates produced by adolescents with WS were comparable to those of typically developing 6- and 9-year-olds, i.e. were more advanced than their ANS precision. These results suggest that ANS precision is somewhat separable from the mapping between approximate numerosities and number words, as the former can be severely damaged in a genetic disorder without commensurate impairment in the latter. All numerate humans have access to two systems of number representation: an exact system that is argued to be based on language and that supports formal mathematics, and an Approximate Number System (ANS) that is present at birth and appears independent of language. Here we examine the interaction between these two systems by comparing the profiles of people with Williams syndrome (WS) with those of typically developing children between ages 4 and 9 years. WS is a rare genetic deficit marked by fluent and well-structured language together with severe spatial deficits, deficits in formal math, and abnormalities of the parietal cortex, which is thought to subserve the ANS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)905-919
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Science
Volume17
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

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Williams Syndrome
Language
Parietal Lobe
Mathematics
Parturition
Inborn Genetic Diseases

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Medicine(all)

Cite this

Understanding the mapping between numerical approximation and number words : Evidence from Williams syndrome and typical development. / Libertus, Melissa E.; Feigenson, Lisa; Halberda, Justin; Landau, Barbara.

In: Developmental Science, Vol. 17, No. 6, 01.11.2014, p. 905-919.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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