Human infants' preference for left-to-right oriented increasing numerical sequences

PLoS One. 2014 May 6;9(5):e96412. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096412. eCollection 2014.


While associations between number and space, in the form of a spatially oriented numerical representation, have been extensively reported in human adults, the origins of this phenomenon are still poorly understood. The commonly accepted view is that this number-space association is a product of human invention, with accounts proposing that culture, symbolic knowledge, and mathematics education are at the roots of this phenomenon. Here we show that preverbal infants aged 7 months, who lack symbolic knowledge and mathematics education, show a preference for increasing magnitude displayed in a left-to-right spatial orientation. Infants habituated to left-to-right oriented increasing or decreasing numerical sequences showed an overall higher looking time to new left-to-right oriented increasing numerical sequences at test (Experiment 1). This pattern did not hold when infants were presented with the same ordinal numerical information displayed from right to left (Experiment 2). The different pattern of results was congruent with the presence of a malleable, context-dependent baseline preference for increasing, left-to-right oriented, numerosities (Experiment 3). These findings are suggestive of an early predisposition in humans to link numerical order with a left-to-right spatial orientation, which precedes the acquisition of symbolic abilities, mathematics education, and the acquisition of reading and writing skills.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Language
  • Male
  • Mathematics / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reading
  • Space Perception / physiology*

Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.