Children master the cardinal significance of one-to-one correspondence after they learn to count

AbstractChildren learn the meaning of number words by going through a systematic set of stages of knowledge that culminates in their mastery of counting. Theoretical work has long suggested that children’s acquisition of counting is not procedural, but semantic: all counters understand that counting computes cardinality. Yet, recent research has cast doubt on whether early counters truly understand the meaning of these words. Here we show that early counters also have an immature understanding of how one-to-one correspondence between an ordered list and a set of objects can be used to compute exact cardinality. Nonetheless, this understanding is improved when cues to quantity, such as size, are highlighted. Our results add to a growing body of work suggesting that counting is not a final stage in children’s path to number, but a powerful tool that they can use to build and strengthen their intuitions about cardinalities.

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