Children use one-to-one correspondence to establish equality after learning to count

AbstractHumans make frequent and powerful use of external symbols to express number exactly, leading some to question whether exact number concepts are only available through the acquisition of symbolic number systems. Although prior work has addressed this longstanding debate on the relationship between language and thought in innumerate populations and semi-numerate children, it has frequently produced conflicting results, leaving the origin of exact number concepts unclear. Here, we return to this question by replicating methods previously used to assess exact number knowledge in innumerate groups, such as the Pirahã, with a large sample of semi-numerate US toddlers. We replicate previous findings from both innumerate cultures and developmental studies showing that numeracy is linked to the concept of exact number. However, we also find evidence that this knowledge is surprisingly fragile even amongst numerate children, suggesting that numeracy alone does not guarantee a full understanding of exactness.

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