Infants typically don't need to balance their checkbooks—or even count sheep to fall asleep. Nonetheless, as Science Daily reports, a team of researchers at the Université Paris-Sud in France has found that infants' brains have "distinct cerebral pathways" that allow them to handle numbers:
The authors recorded the electrical activity evoked by the brain on the surface of the scalp as 3-months-old infants were watching images of objects. The number or identity of objects occasionally changed.
The authors found that the infant brain responds to both changes, but in different brain regions, which map onto the same regions that activate in adults. These results show that very young infants are sensitive to small changes in number, and the brain organization that underlies the perception of object number and identity are established early during development.
According to the New Scientist, the research adds weight to the proposition that human beings are hard-wired to deal with numbers.