Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Behavioral studies show that infants are capable of discriminating the number of objects or events in their environment, while also suggesting that number discrimination in infancy may be ratio-dependent. However, due to limitations of the dependent measures used with infant behavioral studies, the evidence for ratio dependence falls short of the vast psychophysical datasets that have established ratio dependence, and thus, adherence to Weber's Law in adults and nonhuman animals. We addressed this issue in two experiments that presented 7-month-old infants with familiar and novel numerosities while electroencephalogram measures of their brain activity were recorded. These data provide convergent evidence that the brains of 7-month-old infants detected numerical novelty. Alpha-band and theta-band oscillations both differed for novel and familiar numerical values. Most importantly, spectral power in the alpha band over midline and right posterior scalp sites was modulated by the ratio between the familiar and novel numerosities. Our findings provide neural evidence that numerical discrimination in infancy is ratio dependent and follows Weber's Law, thus indicating continuity of these cognitive processes over development. Results are also consistent with the idea that networks in the frontal and parietal cortices support ratio-dependent number discrimination in the first year of human life, consistent with what has been reported in neuroimaging studies in adults and older children.