Intuitive mapping between nonsymbolic quantity and observed action across development

J Exp Child Psychol. 2024 Jan:237:105758. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2023.105758. Epub 2023 Aug 12.


Adults' concurrent processing of numerical and action information yields bidirectional interference effects consistent with a cognitive link between these two systems of representation. This link is in place early in life: infants create expectations of congruency across numerical and action-related stimuli (i.e., a small [large] hand aperture associated with a smaller [larger] numerosity). Although these studies point to a developmental continuity of this mapping, little is known about the later development and thus how experience shapes such relationships. We explored how number-action intuitions develop across early and later childhood using the same methodology as in adults. We asked 3-, 6-, and 8-year-old children, as well as adults, to relate the magnitude of an observed action (a static hand shape, open vs. closed, in Experiment 1; a dynamic hand movement, opening vs. closing, in Experiment 2) to either a small or large nonsymbolic quantity (numerosity in Experiment 1 and numerosity and/or object size in Experiment 2). From 6 years of age, children started performing in a systematic congruent way in some conditions, but only 8-year-olds (added in Experiment 2) and adults performed reliably above chance in this task. We provide initial evidence that early intuitions guiding infants' mapping between magnitude across nonsymbolic number and observed action are used in an explicit way only from late childhood, with a mapping between action and size possibly being the most intuitive. An initial coarse mapping between number and action is likely modulated with extensive experience with grasping and related actions directed to both arrays and individual objects.

Keywords: Abstract mapping; Children; Hand movement; Intuitions; Number cognition; Observed action.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intuition
  • Mathematics
  • Movement*