The association of brightness with number/duration in human newborns

PLoS One. 2019 Oct 1;14(10):e0223192. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0223192. eCollection 2019.


Human neonates spontaneously associate changes in magnitude across the dimensions of number, length, and duration. Do these particular associations generalize to other pairs of magnitudes in the same way at birth, or do they reflect an early predisposition to expect specific relations between spatial, temporal, and numerical representations? To begin to answer this question, we investigated how strongly newborns associated auditory sequences changing in number/duration with visual objects changing in levels of brightness. We tested forty-eight newborn infants in one of three, bimodal stimulus conditions in which auditory numbers/durations increased or decreased from a familiarization trial to the two test trials. Auditory numbers/durations were paired with visual objects in familiarization that remained the same on one test trial but changed in luminance/contrast or shape on the other. On average, results indicated that newborns looked longer when changes in brightness accompanied the number/duration change as compared to no change, a preference that was most consistent when the brightness change was congruent with the number/duration change. For incongruent changes, this preference depended on trial order. Critically, infants showed no preference for a shape change over no shape change, indicating that infants likely treated brightness differently than a generic feature. Though this performance pattern is somewhat similar to previously documented associations, these findings suggest that cross-magnitude associations among number, length, and duration may be more specialized at birth, rather than emerge gradually from postnatal experience or maturation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Perception / physiology*

Grant support

This work was supported by a Fyssen Foundation Postdoctoral Study Grant to CDB, Fyssen Foundation Grant to MDdH (Fyssen Foundation does not provide grant numbers;, and Agence National de la Recherche grant ANR-15-CE28-0003-01 NUMSPA to MDdH ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.