The approximate number system: Training improves math skills

28 Sep

A paper published in the Psychological Science suggests a technique for improving math skills. Here is the abstract:

“Humans and nonhuman animals share an approximate number system (ANS) that permits estimation and rough calculation of quantities without symbols. Recent studies show a correlation between the acuity of the ANS and performance in symbolic math throughout development and into adulthood, which suggests that the ANS may serve as a cognitive foundation for the uniquely human capacity for symbolic math. Such a proposition leads to the untested prediction that training aimed at improving ANS performance will transfer to improvement in symbolic-math ability. In the two experiments reported here, we showed that ANS training on approximate addition and subtraction of arrays of dots selectively improved symbolic addition and subtraction. This finding strongly supports the hypothesis that complex math skills are fundamentally linked to rudimentary preverbal quantitative abilities and provides the first direct evidence that the ANS and symbolic math may be causally related. It also raises the possibility that interventions aimed at the ANS could benefit children and adults who struggle with math.”

The entire paper is available here (pdf).

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