The development of ordinal numerical knowledge in infancy

Cognition. 2002 Apr;83(3):223-40. doi: 10.1016/s0010-0277(02)00005-7.


A critical question in cognitive science concerns how numerical knowledge develops. One essential component of an adult concept of number is ordinality: the greater than and less than relationships between numbers. Here it is shown in two experiments that 11-month-old infants successfully discriminated, whereas 9-month-old infants failed to discriminate, sequences of numerosities that descended in numerical value from sequences that increased in numerical value. These results suggest that by 11 months of age infants possess the ability to appreciate the greater than and less than relations between numerical values but that this ability develops between 9 and 11 months of age. In an additional experiment 9-month-old infants succeeded at discriminating the ordinal direction of sequences that varied in the size of a single square rather than in number, suggesting that a capacity for non-numerical ordinal judgments may develop before a capacity for ordinal numerical judgments. These data raise many questions about how infants represent number and what happens between 9 and 11 months to support ordinal numerical judgments.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child Development*
  • Cognition*
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Female
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Visual Perception