Electrophysiological longitudinal evidence for shared number symbol-quantity representations in 5–6-year-old children in only the subitizing range



How number symbols (e.g. Arabic digits) acquire their numerical meaning in early childhood is topic of debate. Whereas it was long assumed that number symbols acquire numerical meaning by associating them directly with early present non-symbolic representations, recent work suggests that this is only the case for small symbols representing quantities in the subitizing range. To investigate this, the present developmental study adopted a mixed longitudinal - cross-sectional design in combination with measurement of performance and the P2p-ERP component in symbolic and non-symbolic number comparison tasks. Complete data was collected from twenty-six 5-6 year-olds in kindergarten and one year later in grade 1, and from young adults. Children and adults showed comparable behavioral numerical distance effects in both subitizing (1-4), and non-subitizing (6-9) ranges in both tasks. Distance effects on P2p amplitude were present in both tasks, and for both numerical ranges in adults, but only for the subitizing range in children. Since P2p amplitude modulations by numerical distance are assumed to reflect access to analog quantity representations, the current findings imply that children only rely on non-symbolic number representations when making quantity comparisons between number symbols within the subitizing range, supporting suggestions that exact non-symbolic – symbolic mapping only underlies the learning of number symbols in the subitizing range, but not beyond.

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Date made available6 Apr 2022

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