Ordinal processing

Ordinality refers to the understanding that numbers represent a position or rank in a sequence (i.e., two refers to “second” and falls between “one” and “three” in the count sequence). Ordinal knowledge plays a fundamental role in developing arithmetic skills. Our goals are to better understand the cognitive and neural mechanisms associated with ordinal processing in children and adults, and their relationship to mathematical achievement. We are also conducting studies examining the efficacy of instructional games to improve children’s ordinal knowledge.

The neurocognitive mechanisms that support number word learning in preschool children

Learning the meaning of number words is a crucial developmental milestone for math success. Children learn the meaning of number words in a step-by-step process. For example, children first learn that “one” refers to exactly one item, months later they learn the meaning of “two”, followed by “three”, and so on. Our lab is interested in the neurocognitive mechanisms that support the acquisition of the verbal count list, as well as how environmental factors (like socioeconomic status and math attitudes) contribute to the variability in achieving this milestone.

Characterizing symbolic and non-symbolic magnitude processing in children across the globe.

Our prior research that has focused on the role that non-symbolic (e.g., discriminating between sets of items) and symbolic magnitude processing (e.g., discriminating between digits) plays in developing mental arithmetic skills exclusively comes from high-income Western societies (Henrich et al., 2010). Research needs to move beyond studying children in Western societies to understand how context influences the neurocognitive foundations of math. A cross-cultural perspective is needed to understand whether the precursors for learning math are universal. In a large international collaborative project, we are conducting studies that examine the relationship between symbolic and non-symbolic magnitude processing and general math skills in children from countries around the world. We are also interested in exploring how culture shapes the developing mathematical brain.