Infants Show Ratio-dependent Number Discrimination Regardless of Set Size


Correspondences should be sent to Ariel Starr, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University, B104 LSRC Building. Box 90999. Durham, NC 27708. E-mail:


Evidence for approximate number system (ANS) representations in infancy is robust but has typically only been found when infants are presented with arrays of four or more elements. In addition, several studies have found that infants fail to discriminate between small numbers when continuous variables such as surface area and contour length are controlled. These findings suggest that under some circumstances, infants fail to recruit either the ANS or object file representations for small sets. Here, we used a numerical change detection paradigm to assess 6-month-old infants' ability to represent small values. In Experiment 1, infants were tested with 1 versus 3, 1 versus 2, and 2 versus 3 dots. Infants successfully discriminated 1 versus 3 and 1 versus 2, but failed with 2 versus 3. In Experiment 2, we tested whether infants could compare small and large values with a 2 versus 4 condition. Across both experiments, infants' performance exhibited ratio dependence, the hallmark of the ANS. Our results indicate that infants can attend to the purely numerical attributes of small sets and that the numerical change detection paradigm accesses ANS representations in infancy regardless of set size.