London, Sept 8 : Your basic number sense, or your intuitive maths, can easily tell how well you fared in mathematics in school as far back as kindergarten, say scientists from The Johns Hopkins University.
The researchers say that a good "number sense" at age 14 can be easily linked with higher scores on standardized math tests throughout a child's life up to that point.
Similarly, a weaker "number sense" at 14 predicts lower scores on those standardized tests.
"We discovered that a child's ability to quickly estimate how many things are in a group significantly correlates with that child's performance in school math for every single year, reaching all the way back to when he or she was in kindergarten," Nature magazine quoted Justin Halberda, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in the university's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, as saying.
The study suggests that humans share a very basic "number sense" that enables them to calculate approximately, for instance the number of people in a subway car or bus.
During the study, the researchers sought to find whether the basic, seemingly innate number sense had any effect on the formal mathematics that people learn in school.
They made 64 youngsters, all 14-year-olds, to look at flashing groups of yellow and blue dots on a computer screen, and asked them to guess which dots were more in number.
While the majority of children easily guessed the correct answer when there were only 10 blue dots and 25 yellow ones, some faced difficulty when the number of dots in both sets was almost the same.
The results helped the researchers to see the accuracy of each child's individual "number sense."
Later, the researchers examined the teenagers' record of performance in school till the time they were in kindergarten, and discovered that students having a rather acute number sense also scored higher in mathematics than those who showed weaker number sense, even after controlling for general intelligence and other factors.
"What this seems to mean is that the very basic number sense that we humans share with animals is related to the formal mathematics that we learn in school. The number sense we share with the animals and the formal math we learn in school may interact and inform each other throughout our lives," said Halberda.
Though the team found a strong correlation between number sense and scholastic math achievement, Halberda cautioned against concluding that success or failure in maths was genetically determined and, therefore, immutable.
"There are many factors that might affect a person's performance in school mathematics. What is exciting in our result is that success in formal mathematics and simple math intuitions appear to be related," said Halberda.
Now, the researchers plan to investigate the trainability of one's number sense and see if early help in number sense may affect later formal math learning.
The study will be published online by the journal Nature.