The development of numerical estimation: evidence for multiple representations of numerical quantity

Psychol Sci. 2003 May;14(3):237-43. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.02438.


We examined children's and adults' numerical estimation and the representations that gave rise to their estimates. The results were inconsistent with two prominent models of numerical representation: the logarithmic-ruler model, which proposes that people of all ages possess a single, logarithmically spaced representation of numbers, and the accumulator model, which proposes that people of all ages represent numbers as linearly increasing magnitudes with scalar variability. Instead, the data indicated that individual children possess multiple numerical representations; that with increasing age and numerical experience, they rely on appropriate representations increasingly often; and that the numerical context influences their choice of representation. The results, obtained with second graders, fourth graders, sixth graders, and adults who performed two estimation tasks in two numerical contexts, strongly suggest that one cause of children's difficulties with estimation is reliance on logarithmic representations of numerical magnitudes in situations in which accurate estimation requires reliance on linear representations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Concept Formation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Problem Solving*
  • Set, Psychology