Functional magnetic resonance imaging study of Piaget's conservation-of-number task in preschool and school-age children: a neo-Piagetian approach

J Exp Child Psychol. 2011 Nov;110(3):332-46. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2011.04.008. Epub 2011 Jun 1.


Jean Piaget's theory is a central reference point in the study of logico-mathematical development in children. One of the most famous Piagetian tasks is number conservation. Failures and successes in this task reveal two fundamental stages in children's thinking and judgment, shifting at approximately 7 years of age from visuospatial intuition to number conservation. In the current study, preschool children (nonconservers, 5-6 years of age) and school-age children (conservers, 9-10 years of age) were presented with Piaget's conservation-of-number task and monitored by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The cognitive change allowing children to access conservation was shown to be related to the neural contribution of a bilateral parietofrontal network involved in numerical and executive functions. These fMRI results highlight how the behavioral and cognitive stages Piaget formulated during the 20th century manifest in the brain with age.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Executive Function*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Thinking