Behavioral Sciences, Developmental Psychology; numerical cognition; zero; number status of zero; items based number representation
While the knowledge about the development of understanding positive integers is rapidly growing, the development of understanding zero is not well-known. Here we tested several components of preschoolers’ understanding zero: whether they can use empty sets in numerical tasks, whether they can use empty sets as soon as they understand the cardinality principle, whether they know what the word “zero” refers to, and whether they categorize zero as a number. The results show that preschoolers can handle empty sets in numerical tasks as soon as they understand the cardinality principle or even earlier, and some of them know that these sets are labeled as “zero.” However, they are unsure whether zero is a number. We argue that preschoolers might understand numbers as the properties of items or objects in a set. In this view, zero cannot be a number, because an empty set does not include any items, and the missing items cannot have any property, excluding also the number property. This model might explain why zero is handled correctly in numerical tasks, while it is not regarded to be a number.