Cross-dimensional mapping of number, length and brightness by preschool children

PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e35530. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035530. Epub 2012 Apr 19.


Human adults in diverse cultures, children, infants, and non-human primates relate number to space, but it is not clear whether this ability reflects a specific and privileged number-space mapping. To investigate this possibility, we tested preschool children in matching tasks where the dimensions of number and length were mapped both to one another and to a third dimension, brightness. Children detected variation on all three dimensions, and they reliably performed mappings between number and length, and partially between brightness and length, but not between number and brightness. Moreover, children showed reliably better mapping of number onto the dimension of length than onto the dimension of brightness. These findings suggest that number establishes a privileged mapping with the dimension of length, and that other dimensions, including brightness, can be mapped onto length, although less efficiently. Children's adeptness at number-length mappings suggests that these two dimensions are intuitively related by the end of the preschool years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Mathematical Concepts*
  • Perception*
  • Size Perception