Study Finds Twist to the Story of the Number Line: Number Line Is L...

...challenging a mainstream scholarly position that the number-line concept is innate, a study suggests it is learned.

"Our study shows, for the first time, that the number-line concept is not a 'universal intuition' but a particular cultural tool that requires training and education to master," Nunez said. "Also, we document that precise number concepts can exist independently of linear or other metric-driven spatial representations."

The researchers ran several experiments while in Gua, Papua New Guinea, including those that examine another fundamental concept: time.

When talking about past, present and future, people all over the world show a tendency to conceive of these notions spatially, Nunez said. The most common spatial pattern is the one found in the English-speaking world, in which people talk about the future as being in front of them and the past behind, encapsulated, for example, in expressions such as the "week ahead" and "way back when." (In earlier research, Nunez found that the Aymara of the Andes seem to do the reverse, placing the past in front and the future behind.)

Nunez and colleagues find that the Yupno don't use their bodies as reference points for time -- but rather their valley's slope and terrain. ...the Yupno seem to think of past and future not as being arranged on a line, such as the familiar "time line" we have in many Western cultures, but as having a three-dimensional bent shape that reflects the valley's terrain.

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Thanks Ruth. Again I'm learning something new by reading your posts here.

One of the things we talked about when I was studying education is the fact that small children do NOT understand a number line. Some teachers paste number lines onto first graders' desks, thinking it will help them learn addition and subtraction, but that's just not true. They need something physical like little blocks or chips, and you can easily teach them to take away things (subtraction) or to add things, and you can count the things before and after and divide them into groups to teach simple concepts of multiplication and division even in the first grade, but number lines mean nothing.

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