Re-visiting the competence/performance debate in the acquisition of the counting principles

Mathieu Le Corre, Gretchen Van de Walle, Elizabeth M. Brannon, Susan Carey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

219 Scopus citations


Advocates of the "continuity hypothesis" have argued that innate non-verbal counting principles guide the acquisition of the verbal count list (Gelman & Gallistel, 1978). Some studies have supported this hypothesis, but others have suggested that the counting principles must be constructed anew by each child. Defenders of the continuity hypothesis have argued that the studies that failed to support it obscured children's understanding of counting by making excessive demands on their fragile counting skills. We evaluated this claim by testing two-, three-, and four-year-olds both on "easy" tasks that have supported continuity and "hard" tasks that have argued against it. A few noteworthy exceptions notwithstanding, children who failed to show that they understood counting on the hard tasks also failed on the easy tasks. Therefore, our results are consistent with a growing body of evidence that shows that the count list as a representation of the positive integers transcends pre-verbal representations of number.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-169
Number of pages40
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


  • Cognitive development
  • Counting
  • Number
  • Number words
  • Performance/competence


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