Researchers from Johns Hopkins University have found that a simple `intuitive number` game can boost the math performance of kindergartners after just minutes of play.
The game involves differentiating between sets of colourful dots on a computer screen to quickly determine which side contains more, and according to the study, this leads to much higher scores on a subsequent quiz.
Humans and animals inherently have an intuitive sense of quantities, the researchers explain, and even demonstrate it as infants.
When presented with two plates of crackers, for example, a baby will gravitate toward the one that contains more.
This is based on an `approximate number system.`
In the new study, researchers from Johns Hopkins found that this early sense can be tailored to improve a child`s math skills.
The researchers recruited 40 five-year-olds for the study.
In a five-minute computer game, they quickly flashed blue and yellow dots on a laptop screen, and asked the children to choose the colour with more.
But, the flashes were too fast for the children to count how many dots they could see.
After each response, a pre-recorded voice would say either `That`s right,` or `Oh, that`s not right.`
The researchers varied the difficulty differently for the children; some started with easy options and then moved to harder ones, while others started with the harder version.
In a third group, the children were given a mix of hard and easy problems.
Following the game, the kids were then given either a math quiz or a vocabulary quiz.
While there were no changes in their vocabulary skills, the children who had gone through the easy-to-hard progression of the dots game scored much higher on the math test, with roughly 80 percent of the answers correct.
`Math ability is not static – it`s not the case that if you`re bad at math, you`re bad at it the rest of your life,` said Jinjing `Jenny` Wang, a graduate student in the Krieger School of Arts and Science`s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.
`It`s not only changeable, it can be changeable in a very short period of time.
`We used a five-minute game to change kids` math performance.`
In the test, the children had been asked to count backwards, judge the magnitude of spoken numbers, calculate answers to word problems, and write down numbers.
For those who were given the hardest dot problem first, the scores were roughly 60 percent.
And, those who had a mixed batch of questions scored about 70 percent on the quiz.
By improving the child`s sense of numbers in the easy-to-hard progression, the researchers say they`ve temporarily improved their math skills.
Moving forward, they`re working to see if this can be used to produce lasting results.
`These findings emphasize the sense in which core cognition, seen across species and across development, serves as a foundation for more sophisticated thought,` said Lisa Feigenson, professor of psychological and brain sciences and a senior author of the study.
`Of course, this raises the question of whether this kind of rapid improvement lasts for any significant duration, and whether it enhances all types of math abilities. We`re excited to follow up on these questions.`