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Description: Two non-verbal cognitive systems, an approximate number system (ANS) for extracting the numerosity of a set and a parallel individuation (PI) system for distinguishing between individual items, are hypothesized to be foundational to symbolic number and mathematics abilities. However, the exact role of each remains unclear and highly debated. Here we used an individual differences approach to test for a relationship between the spontaneously evoked brain signatures (using event-related potentials) of PI and the ANS and initial development of symbolic number concepts in preschool children as displayed by counting. We observed that individual differences in the neural signatures of the PI system, but not the ANS, explained a unique portion of variance in counting proficiency after extensively controlling for general cognitive factors. These results suggest that differences in early attentional processing of objects between children are related to higher-level symbolic number concept development.

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