Core systems of number

Trends Cogn Sci. 2004 Jul;8(7):307-14. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2004.05.002.


What representations underlie the ability to think and reason about number? Whereas certain numerical concepts, such as the real numbers, are only ever represented by a subset of human adults, other numerical abilities are widespread and can be observed in adults, infants and other animal species. We review recent behavioral and neuropsychological evidence that these ontogenetically and phylogenetically shared abilities rest on two core systems for representing number. Performance signatures common across development and across species implicate one system for representing large, approximate numerical magnitudes, and a second system for the precise representation of small numbers of individual objects. These systems account for our basic numerical intuitions, and serve as the foundation for the more sophisticated numerical concepts that are uniquely human.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language Development
  • Language*
  • Mathematics
  • Neuropsychology / methods
  • Phylogeny
  • Systems Theory*