Monday, August 21, 2006

Infant brains detect arithmetic errors

A PNAS paper by Berger et al. demonstrates that as soon as 6-9 months after birth, human infants recognize incorrect solutions to simple arithmetic equations [(e.g., presentation of 1 + 1; one doll on a TV monitor, with another doll added from behind a screen, followed by a solution of 2 (correct) or 1 (incorrect)]. "Infants looked longer at incorrect solutions than at correct ones. Event-related potentials, time-locked to the presentation of the solution, also differed between conditions, with greater negative activity for the incorrect solution condition. Spectral analysis showed a similar pattern to that of adults observing correct and incorrect arithmetical equations. These findings show (i) that the brain network involved in error detection can be identified in infancy and (ii) that this network can support an association between looking time and violation of expectations." This work goes towards resolving a current debate over whether increased looking time in infancy is related to violation of expectations.

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