Not all continuous dimensions map equally: number-brightness mapping in human infants

PLoS One. 2013 Nov 20;8(11):e81241. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0081241. eCollection 2013.


Evidence for spontaneous mappings between the dimensions of number and length, time and length, and number and time, has been recently described in preverbal infants. It is unclear, however, whether these abilities reflect the existence of privileged mappings between certain quantitative dimensions, like number, space and time, or instead the existence of a magnitude system underlying the representation of any quantitative dimension, and allowing mappings across those dimensions. Four experiments, using the same methods from previous research that revealed a number-length mapping in eight-month-old infants, investigated whether infants of the same age establish mappings between number and a different, non-spatial continuous dimension: level of brightness. We show that infants are able to learn and productively use mappings between brightness and number when they are positively related, i.e., larger numbers paired with brighter or higher contrast levels, and fail when they are inversely related, i.e., smaller numbers paired with brighter or higher contrast levels, suggesting that they are able to learn this mapping in a specific direction. However, infants not only do not show any baseline preference for any direction of the number-brightness mapping, but fail at transferring the discrimination from one dimension (number) to the other (brightness). Although infants can map multiple dimensions to one another, the number-length mapping may be privileged early in development, as it is for adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Photic Stimulation