This past summer, I found an interesting research report from the National Institutes of Health. The research claim: the ability to estimate quantities grows more precise across the first 30 years or more of a person's life.
Called an approximate number sense, ANS is connected directly to concrete math skills developed or mastered at every stage of life. The new finding that the ANS grows sharper also suggests the possibility that environmental factors, such as education, may influence the strength of the ANS and that mathematics education could help improve it. Wow...no surprise there!
Consider this comment by one researcher...and give special attention to the final claim: "People who struggle with a math learning disability may also struggle with day-to-day tasks such as estimating a bill or judging calories as part of a diet...Research shows that differences in math ability in school can have a large impact on later health, as well as income, over a lifetime."
The researchers make other claims, such as that people use their ANS when judging which line to enter at the grocery store. Also, other studies reveal that many animals also have ANS as well (i.e. have you heard the crows-in-the-barn story?).
To research the functioning of the ANS, the researchers posted a 10-minute test on-line. During the test, participants were shown varying quantities of blue and yellow dots and each time were asked to estimate whether they saw more blue or more yellow dots. Each person also answered questions about their own mathematical ability, performance in science and language classes, and level of computer skill. More than 10,000 people from around the world took the test.
Thier overall conclusions involved a pattern: "for people 15 to 30 years of age, older persons typically had better ANS ability, suggesting that ANS improves over time with development and/or experience, up until about 30 years of age. However, a greater number of participants over the age of 60 had a less precise number system. This was a general trend over a large population, with a high degree of individual variation suggesting ANS ability might fade over time in some, but not all people. The researchers also found that a more precise number sense corresponded with participants' self-rating of their math ability, controlling for age, science, language, and computer skills."
Oops...that suggests I am in the decline, rather than the upswing! Oh well, research always has its outliers....
Want to test your own ANS? It is still available at Panamath website, where you can see sample questions, actually be a participant in the study, or even download the test to do your own research.
Source: ScienceDaily, June 27, 2012