September 22, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Ai is 35 years old and lives with her son, Ayumu. They both work together in a computer lab in Kyoto, Japan. Ai and Ayumu caused a riot in 2008 when they proved they could win at any standard (albeit math based) computer game. Using their faster-than-average ability to remember numbers in sequence they would beat the computer to win a sip of apple juice. Oh yeah, they are also chimpanzees.

Their research proved that all animals are born with a natural instinct for numbers. Specifically, how to compare ratios, such as whether or not the tree on the left or right has more fruit. Or where on a London Tube you’re more likely to get a seat.

Last week scientists at John Hopkins university pushed this one step further by proving that all humans are born with the ability to already be good or bad at math. An important theory since it may be possible to train a child’s innate number sense to be better, but it is much harder to change a natural aptitude for the subject.

In order to test those who have been least influenced by education, the research is carried out on very young children who have yet to go to school. The team flashed images of yellow and blue dots up onto a screen and asked the kids which there were more of, (you can take your own test here: ). The children were also required to take tests of aptitude, similar to those Ai and Ayumu took. Addition, multiplication and percentage questions were all asked of children who have barely mastered counting on their fingers. The children’s parents were also tested for verbal skills to see if the results were specifically due to natural intelligence as opposed to a child being suited to test conditions.

The research showed that the children who performed well at the dot tests, also got the best results for natural numerical ability. Ultimately the tests proved that inbuilt math skills at birth can affect whether or not you will do better at your math GCSE. So next time your addition is put to the test, you might not be able to blame any mistakes on your rubbish math teacher after all!