Dr. Justin Halberda

Dr. Justin Halberda (Courtesy of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore Sun / June 29, 2012)

Discovery: Humans have a natural "number sense" that improves with schooling, declines with age and helps determine individuals' innate math skills.

Researchers: Johns Hopkins University psychologist Justin Halberda

Description: Researchers tested more than 10,000 subjects, ages 11 to 85, in a simple game. Subjects were shown screens displaying different numbers of blue and yellow dots and asked to quickly decide which color dots were in greater number. They also answered questions about their math performance in school and math SAT scores. The test can be found at http://www.panamath.com. The experiment aimed to gather information on how basic cognitive abilities can change over an individual's lifetime.

Impact/What it all means: The study found that subjects' innate "number sense" peaked at age 30 but can be trained and improved by daily activities. That, Halberda argues, means educational strategies can be used to improve individuals' natural number sense. The number sense peaks as much as a decade after most other cognitive skills, the study found. The study is also noteworthy for its use of the Internet to recruit a massive pool of subjects, something Halberda calls an important new research model.