Science explains why we need words to define numbers

Science explains why we need words to define numbers

The Tsimane peoplewho live in the remote forests of Bolivia, often delve into research because the individuals who compose them, according to scientists, offer The healthiest hearts in the world. Recently, residents took part in a new academic study, this time to assess how important numbers are in their lives, allowing to infer how it might vary depending on how much each person can count. But let’s go in order and try to understand what this means.

Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California indicates that The relationship between individuals’ ability to count and their success in completing tasks which assumed that the counting numbers were about 25. The researchers found that most people could perform tasks with precision that required object matching, but only to the highest number they could count.

The result suggests that to represent a specific quantity greater than four, people must have a word for that number, notes Edward Gibson, a professor of cognitive and brain sciences. “This discovery provides us with the clearest evidence to date that the number translated into words plays a role Functional role in people’s ability to represent minute quantities is greater than four and supports a broader idea that words allow for new conceptual capabilities. “

In 2014, another study described that Tsimane children learn the meaning of words that translate numbers along the same lines as children in countries and villages. industrial societies. That is, they learn two Three‘, in sequence. From there there is a radical change in understanding and the realization of meanings “five” And the “six”, But also for all the other numerical words they know.

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In industrial societies, which place great importance on numbers, children begin to learn counting at the age of two, and build a sophisticated understanding at the age of four or five. However, in Tsimane no children The path is differentand learning even later, starting around the age of five and ending at eight.

In this new study, researchers identified 15 Tsimane who could count between six and 20, as well as another 15 who could count at least up to 40. This gave the scientists the opportunity to compare the two groups with different counting abilities to test the hypothesis that Without numerical representations people can do perform tasks Ask them to create a file Mental representation of numbers greater than four.

To this end, the team of researchers used a task known as orthogonal congruence. In the simplest stage, the researchers presented a series of objects, such as batteries, and then asked the participants to arrange an equivalent number of different objects, such as thread spools. With orthogonal matching, the objects are shown in a horizontal line, but the participants must align the corresponding number vertically, so that they cannot match one by one.


The MIT team found that the Tsimane people were able to accomplish this task, but only slightly less than they could count. That is, those who can count up to 10 will start making mistakes when they are asked to match eight or nine items, while those who can count up to 15 will start making mistakes at around 13 or 14.

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The results indicate that the file Tasks that require number processing can only be performed using numeric words or other explicit number representation systems.

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