Number sense biases children's area judgments

Cognition. 2020 Nov:204:104352. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2020.104352. Epub 2020 Jul 3.


Humans are thought to use the approximate number system (ANS) to make quick approximations based on quantity even before learning to count. However, there has long been controversy regarding the salience of number versus other stimulus dimensions throughout development, including a recent proposal that number sense is derived from a sense of general magnitude. Here, we used a regression approach to disentangle numerical acuity from sensitivity to total surface area in both 5-year-old children and adults. We found that both children and adults displayed higher acuity when making numerosity judgments than total surface area judgments. Adults were largely able to ignore irrelevant stimulus features when making numerosity or total area judgments. Children were more biased by numerosity when making total area judgments than by total area when making numerosity judgments. These results provide evidence that number is more salient than total surface area even before the start of formal education and are inconsistent with the Sense of Magnitude proposal.

Keywords: Approximate number system; Number sense; Numerical cognition; Sense of Magnitude.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aptitude
  • Bias
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Learning