Christy emailed me with this NYT article describing how quick judgments of comparative number correlate to performance on standardized math tests.

This month in the journal Nature, Justin Halberda and Lisa Feigenson of Johns Hopkins University and Michele Mazzocco of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore described their study of 64 14-year-olds who were tested at length on the discriminating power of their approximate number sense. The teenagers sat at a computer as a series of slides with varying numbers of yellow and blue dots flashed on a screen for 200 milliseconds each — barely as long as an eye blink. After each slide, the students pressed a button indicating whether they thought there had been more yellow dots or blue...

Given the antiquity and ubiquity of the nonverbal number sense, the researchers were impressed by how widely it varied in acuity. There were kids with fine powers of discrimination, able to distinguish ratios on the order of 9 blue dots for every 10 yellows, Dr. Feigenson said. “Others performed at a level comparable to a 9-month-old,” barely able to tell if five yellows outgunned three blues. Comparing the acuity scores with other test results that Dr. Mazzocco had collected from the students over the past 10 years, the researchers found a robust correlation between dot-spotting prowess at age 14 and strong performance on a raft of standardized math tests from kindergarten onward. “We can’t draw causal arrows one way or another,” Dr. Feigenson said, “but your evolutionarily endowed sense of approximation is related to how good you are at formal math.”

Interesting! You can take a version of the test here. The graphic says that "most adults will be correct 75% of the time," which tells me that whoever wrote the blurb does NOT have good number sense! Or at least, not a good number vocabulary.

I took 50 tests and got 80% right. I had the same yellow over-estimating problem and got much better when I compensated for it.

Posted by: Amy F | 17 September 2008 at 08:26 PM