Creative and engineering types alike, listen up: some people are just better at math than others, and it's because they're born that way, according to new research.

While practice always makes perfect, researchers at** Johns Hopkins University** found that math ability in preschool children is strongly linked to their inborn and primitive "number sense," called an "Approximate Number System," or ANS.

Led by **Melissa Libertus**, the team of psychologists tested 200 four-year-old children -- this age, because it precedes formal math training -- on several tasks measuring number sense, mathematical ability and verbal ability.

During the number sense task, the researchers asked the children to view flashing groups of blue and yellow dots on a computer screen, then estimate which color group of dots was more numerous. (Counting wasn't an option; the dots were flashed quickly enough to prevent this from occurring.)

Some of the examples were obvious -- five versus 10 dots -- and others were not, such as five versus six.

The children also were given a standardized test of early mathematics ability that measured:

- numbering skills (verbally counting items on a page)
- number-comparison (determining which of two spoken number words is greater or lesser)
- numeral literacy (reading Arabic numbers)
- mastery of number facts (such as addition or multiplication)
- calculation skills (solving written addition and subtraction problems)
- number concepts (such as answering how many sets of 10 are in 100.)

Finally, the parents or guardians of the children were given an assessment that asked them to indicate each word on a list that their children had been heard to say. This test was to control for testing insecurity; since language and math are to some extent linked to general intelligence, the researchers wanted to isolate math ability from *overall* ability.

What the researchers found was that the precision of children's estimations in the first test correlated with their math skill. Therefore, inborn numerical estimation abilities are linked to achievement -- or lack thereof -- in school mathematics.

And what is "number sense," exactly? It's basic to all animals, not just human beings. Animals that hunt or gather food use it to determine where they can find and procure the most nuts, plants or game, as well as keep track of the food they hunt or gather. For humans in the modern world, it's the "sense" you use to estimate the number of empty chairs in an auditorium or M&Ms in the fishbowl at the county fair.

In a statement, Libertus had this to say about their findings:

The relationship between 'number sense' and math ability is important and intriguing because we believe that 'number sense' is universal, whereas math ability has been thought to be highly dependent on culture and language and takes many years to learn. A link between the two is surprising and raises many important questions and issues, including one of the most important ones, which is whether we can train a child's number sense with an eye to improving his future math ability.

The root cause of the link between number sense and math ability remains unknown, but their findings help provide a basis to investigate improvement -- and find the real levers behind successful STEM initiatives.

Their findings were published in the journal *Developmental Science*.

"the team of psychologists tested 200 four-year-old children ??? this age, because it precedes formal math training ??? on several tasks measuring number sense, mathematical ability and verbal ability." Most four-year-olds may not have had "formal" math training, but many four-years can do basic math. I know all three of mine did. They could do addition and subraction of the various items that they had, whether toy blocks, or pieces of food. "the parents or guardians of the children were given an assessment that asked them to indicate each word on a list that their children had been heard to say" Sound like a test of the parents' memory, or quantity of time spent with the child, more than a test of the child. "math ability has been thought to be highly dependent on culture and language and takes many years to learn" Huh? Basic math is learned very quickly, not in years. "...ability... takes years to learn" WTH? While an "ability" may be inborn, basic math skills are taught, and therfore are a learned behavior. Teach your children to add and subtract every object, and they will learn math quite easily. Multipication is best learned by drills and memorization. The answer to "What is nine times six" should come as readily as the answer to "What is your name." If you haven't trained your children by the time they're four, it's almost too late. This "study" also ignores enviromental and birth order factors.

I believe it is very true that certain people are born with an affinity to certain abilities or traits. I think we should develop more tests that give us an idea of what our children excel in while still at a very young age. With this, we can better direct their paths of practice and education to lead to a more efficient society.

by training some child in more experienced in the begin of life they give them some push like engineering in first inborn they love Mechano as example bespheil.

Anyone who's worked with children can tell you that some of them are gifted beyond their peers in certain areas. Two of my children could talk amazingly early, and (surprise!) as adults they are great at public speaking, with no training and little experience. Myself, when I was a child I could easily do my brother's math several grade levels above my own, because it seemed to me to be obvious extensions of what I already knew. If I got stuck, my brother only had to show me once. That's not normal. (Why do you think we have grade levels?) I became a physicist. Is anyone surprised? Other children are unusually athletic, or musical, or empathetic, or imaginative, or energetic, or daring, etc., etc., etc. Find the right tests, and you'll prove these are innate characteristics, with a wide range of innate ability. This only upsets people because of our prejudice towards certain abilities (the ones that make money).

I also wonder about this. (I am a research meteorologist, and reasonably good with numbers). In my own schooling, I was a relatively mediocre performer until the 3'rd grade, when an alert teacher noticed I couldn't see the writing on the blackboard. She alerted my parents, I was then fitted with glasses, and I went from a "C" to an "A" almost immediately, and the rest is history. I wonder how many of those children in the test had their vision checked first to eliminate that as a cause of poor performance.

This article is bad science because it makes no reference to the significance of stereopsis of vision. Children develop stereopsis of vision for 0 to 9 years of age, during that time they develop their maths skills. Girls development is ahead of boys, so at this early age boys should be more adept mathematically than boys. For many reasons children hit blockages to their development of full cognitive vision, for most children this is entirely correctable through Behavioural Optometry - I have not yet met a student that cannot improve their Maths skills by improving their cognitive visual skills. The brain is plastic; the muscles around the eyes can all be manipulated; therefore Maths skills are not necessarily inborn it depends on how alert the parents, teachers and optometrists are to the developmental needs of the child.

This article is pure Bullshi*t. The reason math is hard to follow is that for some reason corporations seem to think they need to hide their methods and techniques. Math really means how do we represent visual information. If you take a Math System Commodore 64 because you have 400+ books available would qualify for a study or Atari 800 with 100 books available. or Acorn with 120 books available. or TRS-80 with about 240 books available. One thing you notice is nobody writes the same. Read Richard Dawkins the Selfish Gene which was written write before the TRS-80 Basic was released. People have to learn to translate and stop accepting that AAAwesome and cool are not swear words. There is not a standard either in Mathematica or Maple. What has John Hopkins students done with Mathematica? or Maple? What could they do on a C64 emulator? By the way I am a retarded student and my vocabulary is much further ahead then average people but my dexterity is much lower. Most people get lost with my conversations about math which show progress. It has nothing to do with people, technological books or teachers but really with TV script writing and Journalism formats and bombastic religious conversation. I swear talking to my garbage disposal is a deeper conversation then talking with religious Christian people.

can Larry Summers get his job back at Harvard?

I am wondering what was the results for the sex distribution and will the children be followed up as time goes on? It seems that up until about puberty girls and boys are roughly equal and then after that the boys usually out distance the girls by quite a margin just as the girls, I think even early on, out do the boys in language skills and communication. Thanks.

This is wrong on so many levels. It ignores the connection between developing language and logical reasoning skills. Enumeration is very basic to the development of children from the very start. When we talk number sense....how many fingers and how many toes....what, we think that children wouldn't (at least at some level notice even these very basics (hence, number sense)

the results might have shown a marked disparity between the genders, with boys having the upper hand. But that is either politically incorrect or interpreted as too harmful a message to disseminate because it "discourages girls". I am discovering more and more that the fields we take up in adulthood depend on positive experiences with them in childhood. I got a lot of encouragement from my math-teaching aunt, resulting in a BS in Math and a career in IT. I've seen a similar pattern in other people's lives. IMO, someone without above-average aptitude, boy or girl, can succeed in math or any other field given good mentoring and encouragement combined with personal drive and discipline. If males have a natural edge in math, and the evidence overwhelmingly suggests they do, then why can't we just admit it? It doesn't make males the superior gender, it just means there are differences. We seem to have no trouble accepting that girls/females score better in language/communication.