Children acquire the later-greater principle after the cardinal principle

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Abstract

Many have proposed that the acquisition of the cardinal principle (CP) is a result of the discovery of the numerical significance of the order of the number words in the count list. However, this need not be the case. Indeed, the CP does not state anything about the numerical significance of the order of the number words. It only states that the last word of a correct count denotes the numerosity of the counted set. Here, we test whether the acquisition of the CP involves the discovery of the later-greater principle – that is, that the order of the number words corresponds to the relative size of the numerosities they denote. Specifically, we tested knowledge of verbal numerical comparisons (e.g., Is ‘ten’ more than ‘six’?) in children who had recently learned the CP. We find that these children can compare number words between ‘six’ and ‘ten’ only if they have mapped them onto non-verbal representations of numerosity. We suggest that this means that the acquisition of the CP does not involve the discovery of the correspondence between the order of the number words and the relative size of the numerosities they denote.

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