A person’s math ability can range from simple arithmetic to calculus and abstract set theory. But there’s one math skill we all share: a primitive ability to estimate and compare quantities without counting, like when choosing a checkout line at the grocery store.

Previous studies have suggested there’s a connection between how well a person does at the approximate number system and how skilled they become at the symbolic math they learn in school.

Duke University researchers wanted to know if this ability could be enhanced by giving people more practice at approximate number math.

It can, according to new research by Duke psychologist Elizabeth Brannon and postdoctoral researcher Joonkoo Park. Their findings, which were supported by a National Institutes of Health grant and a Duke neuroscience fellowship, appeared online Aug. 6 in the journal *Psychological Science*.

To test the idea, they enrolled 26 adult volunteers and tested their symbolic math ability before and after 10 training sessions that were designed to hone their approximate number skills. On each of these training sessions, the participants practiced adding and subtracting large quantities of dots without counting.

They were briefly shown two arrays of nine to 36 dots on a computer screen and then asked whether a third set of dots was larger or smaller than the sum of the first two sets, or whether it matched the sum.

Read more at: Phys.org