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Front Psychol. 2012 Jan 3;2:392. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00392. eCollection 2011.

Symbolic number: the integration of magnitude and spatial representations in children aged 6 to 8 years.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, Centre for Neuroscience in Education, University of Cambridge, Cambridge UK.


The process of learning symbolic Arabic digits in early childhood requires that magnitude and spatial information integrates with the concept of symbolic digits. Previous research has separately investigated the development of automatic access to magnitude and spatial information from symbolic digits. However, developmental trajectories of symbolic number knowledge cannot be fully understood when considering components in isolation. In view of this, we have synthesized the existing lines of research and tested the use of both magnitude and spatial information with the same sample of British children in Years 1, 2, and 3 (6-8 years of age). The physical judgment task of the numerical Stroop paradigm demonstrated that automatic access to magnitude was present from Year 1 and the distance effect signaled that a refined processing of numerical information had developed. Additionally, a parity judgment task showed that the onset of the spatial-numerical association of response codes effect occurs in Year 2. These findings uncover the developmental timeline of how magnitude and spatial representations integrate with symbolic number knowledge during early learning of Arabic digits and resolve inconsistencies between previous developmental and experimental research lines.


magnitude representation; numerical Stroop paradigm; spatial representation; spatial–numerical association of response codes effect; symbolic representation

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