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Automaticity of Number and Quantity Representations

Felicia Hurewitz

Thursday, November 20, 2003, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Rutgers University, Center for Cognitive Science

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November 20, 2003 at 12:00p.m.

Psychology Room 101, Busch Campus

Dr. Felicia Hurewitz

Rutgers University, Center for Cognitive Science

"Automaticity of Number and Quantity Representations"

A great deal of psychological research over the last twenty years suggests
that humans, like animals, are endowed with an innate number system, and
that this system forms the basis for further counting and arithmetic
skills.  One line of evidence supporting this view comes from infancy
research.  It turns out that infants can represent and perform operations
on numerical information across a variety of experimental techniques (e.g.
Sparky, Spelke & Gelman, 1990, Wynn, 1992)

However, these infancy results have recently been challenged by new data
indicating that infant discrete numerical competencies appear to break
down when continuous quantities are controlled.  For example, in
habituation experiments, infants do not detect the difference between two
circles and three circles when the total area of the combined circles
remains constant (Clearfield & Mix 2001.)

While this data has been used to discount continuity models of discrete
number, it can alternatively be an indicator that continuous and discrete
number representations are processed automatically, and that one process
can interfere with the other.   I will present adult response time data
that supports this second proposal.  Adults are unable to ignore
irrelevant continuous quantity information when performing counting tasks,
and are unable to ignore number when performing tasks involving continuous
quantity.    These data may explain some of the conflicting infancy
results, as well as offer further insight into the way in which numerical
information is processed on-line.


Felicia Hurewitz