From three months, a baby has a sense of numbers

Recent research has showed that the brain of a three month old baby reacts to numbers.

All human beings, whatever their culture and education, have a concept of numbers, a capacity to perceive in a fraction of a second how many objects are contained in a unit; but from which age?

Until now, it was believed that infants from 5 to 6 months of age perceived numbers however these researchers suggest it is much younger.

Electroencephalography to measure the visual activity

Researchers used the technique of electroencephalography (EEG) and measured the electrical activity of the brain of infants while they observed images each one representing a unit of objects.

The majority of the images contained the same number of identical objects, with however some nuances in the number or the nature of the objects.

Reactions in the newborn

The researchers then noted that the brains of the infants reacted to these changes.

From 3 months, a basic dorsal central brain

The results of this study stress that the infants concept of numbers occurs progressively, starting within the first month, where the processing of numbers is directed towards parietal surfaces of the brain. It is on the basis of this notion of quantities that the children could then understand more elaborate mathematical concepts, like arithmetic.

Reminders on the adult brain: two principal ways of information analysis

In the adult, visual information processing is organised according to two principal processing pathways.
  • The dorsal pathway: numbers

This brain pathway informs about the position and the movement of the objects. It rests on surfaces of the parietal lobe, located in the upper part of the brain. The processing of the number of objects is linked to this pathway.
  • The ventral pathway: identity

This pathway rests on surfaces of the temporal lobes, located laterally.

3D for a better localisation


Because the technique of electroencephalography did not make it possible to locate the cortical surfaces directly concerned, researchers developed a method of rebuilding in 3D the cerebral zones activated starting from the EEG.


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