Conceptual Correlates of Counting: Children’s Spontaneous Matching and Tracking of Large Sets Reflects Their Knowledge of the Cardinal Principle

Anna Shusterman, Pierina Cheung, Jessica Taggart, Ilona Bass, Talia Berkowitz, Julia A. Leonard, Ariel Schwartz


The acquisition of counting is a major milestone for children. A central question is how children’s non-verbal number concepts change as they learn to count. We assessed children’s verbal counting knowledge using the Give-N task and identified children who had acquired the cardinal principle (Cardinal Principle Knowers, or CP-knowers) and those who had not (Subset-Knowers, or SS-knowers). We compared their performance on two tests of nonverbal numerical cognition. We report comparable performance between SS- and CP-knowers for matching and tracking small sets of objects up to four, but disparate performance for sets between five and nine, with CP-knowers outperforming SS-knowers. These results indicate that the difference between CP- and SS-knowers extends beyond their knowledge of the verbal number system to their non-verbal quantitative reasoning. The findings provide support for the claim that children’s induction of cardinality represents a conceptual transition with concurrent, qualitative changes in numerical representation.


cognitive development; numerical cognition; number development; cardinality; object tracking; approximate number system

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Copyright (c) 2017 Shusterman; Cheung; Taggart et al.