Parallel Individuation Supports Numerical Comparisons in Preschoolers

Pierina Cheung, Mathieu Le Corre


While the approximate number system (ANS) has been shown to represent relations between numerosities starting in infancy, little is known about whether parallel individuation – a system dedicated to representing objects in small collections – can also be used to represent numerical relations between collections. To test this, we asked preschoolers between the ages of 2 ½ and 4 ½ to compare two arrays of figures that either included exclusively small numerosities (< 4) or exclusively large numerosities (> 4). The ratios of the comparisons were the same in both small and large numerosity conditions. Experiment 1 used a between-subject design, with different groups of preschoolers comparing small and large numerosities, and found that small numerosities are easier to compare than large ones. Experiment 2 replicated this finding with a wider range of set sizes. Experiment 3 further replicated the small-large difference in a within-subject design. We also report tentative evidence that non- and 1-knowers perform better on comparing small numerosities than large numerosities. These results suggest that preschoolers can use parallel individuation to compare numerosities, possibly prior to the onset of number word learning, and thus support previous proposals that there are numerical operations defined over parallel individuation (e.g., Feigenson & Carey, 2003;


parallel individuation; analog magnitudes; numerical comparison; small; large; preschoolers

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