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Abstract

Are abstract representations of number – representations that are independent of the particular type of entities that are enumerated – a product of human language or culture, or do they trace back to human infancy? To address this question, four experiments investigated whether human infants discriminate between sequences of actions (jumps of a puppet) on the basis of numerosity. At 6 months, infants successfully discriminated four- versus eight-jump sequences, when the continuous variables of sequence duration, jump duration, jump rate, jump interval and duration, and extent of motion were controlled, and rhythm was eliminated. In contrast, infants failed to discriminate two- versus four-jump sequences, suggesting that infants fail to form cardinal number representations of small numbers of actions. Infants also failed to discriminate between sequences of four versus six jumps at 6 months, and succeeded at 9 months, suggesting that infants’ number representations are imprecise and increase in precision with age. All of these findings agree with those of studies using visual–spatial arrays and auditory sequences, providing evidence that a single, abstract system of number representation is present and functional in infancy.