How Good Are You at Estimating?


In the recent New York Times article “Gut Instinct’s Surprising Role in Math” (subscription wall), Natalie Angier reports on an article in the Sept. 7, 2008 Nature called “Individual differences in non-verbal number acuity correlate with maths achievement”. (press release from Johns Hopkins)

A study by Justin Halberda, Lisa Feigenson, and Michelle Mazzocco at Johns Hopkins has demonstrated a correlation between humans’ innate number sense (which aids in estimation, a trait shared by many animals) and their success in more formal and abstract mathematics courses. They have not made any claims about genetic predisposition to ability in math (and caution against doing so), but the results are certainly interesting. (Glancing at their publication lists, it appears that each have interests in the development of children’s mathematical abilities, and have done similar research in the past.)

You can take the same “dots test” that the research subjects took here. The test claims that an “average adult” will score around 75% over a reasonable sample of tests (at least 25). (Does that mean the “average adult” would probably get a ‘C’ in calculus?) How does your score correlate with your math grades?

(Via Language Log)



5 Responses to “How Good Are You at Estimating?”

  1. mbork Says:

    Wow! Got 90% on 30 tests, and after 30 more got 88% (in overall 60 tests). And defended my PhD in maths this year;), so probably the correlation is rather positive for me;).

    And a word of advice: don’t worry if you’re below 75% (neither be too happy if you are over it;)). “Mean” usually means that some are better and some worse; what’s more, “positive correlation” does not mean “if you score 50%, forget about studying maths” – it means only that, e.g., for a random sample of 100 people scoring 50%, it is rather not very probable that 95% of them are math professors – but still, 5% might be;). By analogy, scoring 95% does not mean you don’t have to learn for math test;).

  2. mathmom Says:

    I got 90% over 30 tests as well. Since I’m a mathie I guess I represent a positive datapoint for their hypothesis. šŸ˜‰

  3. jd2718 Says:

    Trainable. Started with 4 in a row wrong, then went 44/51. The other mistakes were also clumped.


  4. Batman Says:

    My mistakes were clumped, too. I started out 22/22, then got one really wrong (8 yellow, 17 blue – I guessed yellow). Then I got 2 out of the next 3 wrong, as well. Then another good stretch, then a bad run. Finished with 94%.

  5. Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz: Bees can Count « 360 Says:

    […] Incidentally, a different news story in The Telegraph earlier this year announced that North American mosquito fish can also count to four. The fish could also distinguish between groups of very different sizes (16 versus 8, but not 16 versus 12). No word on how bees would do at the dots test. […]

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