It turns out kids can understand complex numeral systems such as binary and hexadecimals – almost like natural selection – far beyond what anyone would have expected.
Children at young age are extremely culpable to being raised in a multilingual environment, that we know. But new research from Russian cognitive developmental psychologist Kateryna Afinogenova shows that that culpability towards thinking in multiple languages also applies to number theory.
"Practically the entire world uses the decimal system, based on counting to ten. This seems strange given that both the ancient Egyptians and the Mayans where known to use binary and octal systems."
Afinogenova was raised in a multilingual household herself and has always had a strong affinity with maths and pedagogy. After graduating with a Ph.D. from Lomonosov Moscow State University, she and her co-researchers were responsible for a large scale experiment amongst 420 children in Saint Petersburg which showed that children between the ages of two and five years old can easily think and calculate with other roots than 10.
"The results are better than expected.", she says. "While adults have trouble with binary numbers, from around the age of two, children can not only calculate on a binary scale, but even translate from binary to hexadecimal - and back."
Of the children sampled, 21 percent appear to understand octal (8-based), alphadecimal and hexatridecimal (36-based, 0 to 9 and A to Z) number systems and are able to do sums with them.
An educational paradigm shift
According to Afinogenova, this is a breakthrough in our knowledge of cerebral development and could be the start of a big change in education. Her research has been presented to the Russian Ministry of Science and Education and by working with the government she hopes to implement a change in the way primary schools in her home country operate.
"Seven percent of the test group could even bitshift!" she says with a heartwarming smile. "Schools should be taking advantage of this. For instance, they could modify their curriculum and offer practice sessions with different numerical systems."
If you would like to reuse any content from Scientific World News, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. Scientific World News does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.