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J Exp Child Psychol. 2009 Aug;103(4):503-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2009.02.006. Epub 2009 Mar 27.

Children's early mental number line: logarithmic or decomposed linear?

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Department of Psychology, Eberhard Karls University, Tuebingen, Germany.


Recently, the nature of children's mental number line has received much investigation. In the number line task, children are required to mark a presented number on a physical number line with fixed endpoints. Typically, it was observed that the estimations of younger/inexperienced children were accounted for best by a logarithmic function, whereas those of older/more experienced children were reflected best by a linear function. This led to the conclusion that children's mental number line transforms from logarithmic to linear with age and experience. In this study, we outline an alternative interpretation of children's performance in a number line task. We suggest that two separate linear representations for one- and two-digit numbers may exist in young children and that initially the integration of these two representations into the place value structure of the Arabic number system is not fully mastered. When testing this assumption in a sample of more than 120 first graders, we observed that the two-linear model consistently provided better fit indexes. We conclude that instead of assuming a transition from logarithmic to linear coding, performance differences could also be accounted for by an improvement in integrating tens and units into the Arabic place value system.

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