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J Exp Child Psychol. 2009 May;103(1):17-29. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2008.04.001. Epub 2008 May 29.

Mapping numerical magnitudes onto symbols: the numerical distance effect and individual differences in children's mathematics achievement.

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Numerical Cognition Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, Ontario N6A 5C2, Canada.


Although it is often assumed that abilities that reflect basic numerical understanding, such as numerical comparison, are related to children's mathematical abilities, this relationship has not been tested rigorously. In addition, the extent to which symbolic and nonsymbolic number processing play differential roles in this relationship is not yet understood. To address these questions, we collected mathematics achievement measures from 6- to 8-year-olds as well as reaction times from a numerical comparison task. Using the reaction times, we calculated the size of the numerical distance effect exhibited by each child. In a correlational analysis, we found that the individual differences in the distance effect were related to mathematics achievement but not to reading achievement. This relationship was found to be specific to symbolic numerical comparison. Implications for the role of basic numerical competency and the role of accessing numerical magnitude information from Arabic numerals for the development of mathematical skills and their impairment are discussed.

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