Spontaneous perception of numerosity in pre-school children

G. Anobile, G. Guerrini, D. C. Burr, M. Monti, B. Del Lucchese, G. M. Cicchini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is strong evidence that humans can make rough estimates of the numerosity of a set of items, almost from birth. However, as numerosity covaries with many non-numerical variables, the idea of a direct number sense has been challenged. Here we applied two different psychophysical paradigms to demonstrate the spontaneous perception of numerosity in a cohort of young pre-school children. The results of both tasks showed that even at that early developmental stage, humans spontaneously base the perceptual choice on numerosity, rather than on area or density. Precision in one of these tasks predicted mathematical abilities. The results reinforce strongly the idea of a primary number sense and provide further evidence linking mathematical skills to the sensory precision of the spontaneous number sense, rather than to mechanisms involved in handling explicit numerosity judgements or extensive exposure to mathematical teaching.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20191245
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1906
Publication statusPublished - Jul 10 2019


  • Magnitude perception
  • Math abilities
  • Numerical cognition
  • Numerosity perception
  • Texture density

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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