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Monday, June 06, 2005

Number Monkey 

Numbers are a funny thing. Humans have a natural instinct for them - there's plenty of developmental psychology research on how early babies can intuitively 'count,' and on how illiterate, unschooled kids can do the advanced arithmetic needed to sell goods in a market (most commonly to tourists in Cancun) - but not as much basic understanding of how the brain deals with them. Neuro-economics, for all its promise, is a barely nascent field.

Today Kathryn Kramer provides a fascinating example of the naturalness of math and quantitative intuition with her son's participation in the Pokemon trading card market, and I can't help but wonder, had she seen this before doing so? Neuroscientists working with rhesus monkeys found that they seem to 'count' the number of calls they hear, and react with surprise if shown the wrong number of callers. The numbers of callers used were two and three, well under the subitizing threshold, so I wonder if that might have an effect or, better yet, if the system used for monkeys to count calls like this is the same/similar to the one used in subitizing.


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