Research

Why study number?
What do you know about natural numbers (1, 2, 3, …)? For most of us, the concept of number is pretty easy, right? We understand that each number represents a particular quantity of a set composed of discrete elements. We understand that a number has a particular relationship with another number. We also understand that numbers never end. All these are quite straightforward, making the concept of number perhaps the simplest human abstract concept. However, we dare argue that it is actually one of the most difficult concepts to learn. As a matter of fact, it typically takes more than five years in childhood for us to fully acquire these number concepts. Furthermore, without proper training and resources (i.e., language, as shown by the lack of number concepts in some indigenous population around the world), a child may never learn the basic number concepts that we take for granted. At the same time, even with extensive training, no other species on this planet is capable of acquiring this seemingly simplest idea. Thus, number represents a core aspect of a uniquely human cognitive capacity, and it can tell us about how foundational cognitive abilities interact with developmental experiences to let us humans be us. This is why we study numerical cognition.

What we are working on:
We study many aspects of number using behavioral and neural approaches in adults and children, tackling basic cognitive science questions. We study the linguistic basis of numerical cognition, with the hypothesis that the structure of numerical thinking is largely based on the syntactic structure of numerals. We study the mind and brain represents numerical sequence and order which we hypothesize are another foundational knowledge for children to latch on to acquire number concepts. We also study the primitive sense of number which we hypothesize must provide the basis of magnitude representation. In addition, we are working on various other projects that have stemmed from these core lines of research, and these include serial dependence, math anxiety, visual recognition of numbers, letters, and words, and more.