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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
Similarly, young children in this age range can give sensible answers to questions about the difference between the insides and outsides of animals, machines, and natural inanimate objects; see Figure 4.4.
These are only a handful of findings from a large body of research that goes a long way to challenge the idea that young children are incapable of considering non-perceptual data in scientific areas. Given that there is a mounting body of evidence showing that youngsters are busy constructing coherent accounts of their physical and biological worlds, one needs to ask to what extent these early competencies serve as a bridge for further learning when they enter school.
Early Number Concepts
An ever-increasing body of evidence shows that the human mind is endowed with an implicit mental ability that facilitates attention to and use of representations of the number of items in a visual array, sequence of drumbeats, jumps of a toy bunny, numerical values represented in arrays, etc. For example, Starkey et al. (1990) showed 6- to 8-month-old infants a series of photographic slides of either 2- or 3-item displays. Each successive picture showed different household items, including combs, pipes, lemons, scissors, and corkscrews that varied in color, shape, size, and texture and spatial position. Half of the infants saw a series of two-item displays while the other half were shown a series of three-item displays. When they became bored, their looking times dropped by 50 percent (they habituated). At this point, they were then shown displays that alternated between two and three items, and if the displays showed a different number of items from what they had seen before, the infants began to show interest by looking again. The only common characteristic within the two-item and three-item displays was their numerical value, so one can say the infants habituated to the set of two or three things and then recovered interest when they were shown a different number of things. The infants could have focused on perceptual attributes of the items such as their shapes, motion, textural complexity, and so on, but they did not. This is an important clue that they are able to process information that represents number at a rather abstract level.
Other researchers have shown that infants pay attention to the number of times a toy rabbit jumps up and down, so long as the number of jumping events they have to keep track of is kept between two and four jumps (Wynn, 1996). An especially interesting demonstration of infants’ ability to notice abstract number information in the environment was reported by Canfield and Smith (1996). They found that 5-month-old infants used visual expectation (see previous section) to show that infants are able to distinguish three pictures presented in one location from two pictures in another.
Young infants and toddlers also respond correctly to the effects of the