Previous research reported that college students' symbolic addition and subtraction fluency improved after training with non-symbolic, approximate addition and subtraction. These findings were widely interpreted as strong support for the hypothesis that the Approximate Number System (ANS) plays a causal role in symbolic mathematics, and that this relation holds into adulthood. Here we report four experiments that fail to find evidence for this causal relation. Experiment 1 examined whether the approximate arithmetic training effect exists within a shorter training period than (...) originally reported (2 vs 6 days of training). Experiment 2 attempted to replicate and compare the approximate arithmetic training effect to a control training condition matched in working memory load. Experiments 3 and 4 replicated the original approximate arithmetic training experiments with a larger sample size. Across all four experiments (N = 318) approximate arithmetic training was no more effective at improving the arithmetic fluency of adults than training with control tasks. Results call into question any causal relationship between approximate, non-symbolic arithmetic and precise symbolic arithmetic. (shrink)
Children bring intuitive arithmetic knowledge to the classroom before formal instruction in mathematics begins. For example, children can use their number sense to add, subtract, compare ratios, and even perform scaling operations that increase or decrease a set of dots by a factor of 2 or 4. However, it is currently unknown whether children can engage in a true division operation before formal mathematical instruction. Here we examined the ability of 6- to 9-year-old children and college students to perform symbolic (...) and non-symbolic approximate division. Subjects were presented with non-symbolic or symbolic dividends ranging from 32 to 185, and non-symbolic divisors ranging from 2 to 8. Subjects compared their imagined quotient to a visible target quantity. Both children and adults were successful at the approximate division tasks in both dots and numeral formats. This was true even among the subset of children that could not recognize the division symbol or solve simple division equations, suggesting intuitive division ability precedes formal division instruction. For both children and adults, the ability to divide non-symbolically mediated the relation between Approximate Number System acuity and symbolic math performance, suggesting that the ability to calculate non-symbolically may be a mechanism of the relation between ANS acuity and symbolic math. Our findings highlight the intuitive arithmetic abilities children possess before formal math instruction. (shrink)
The dual-code proposal of number representation put forward by Cohen Kadosh & Walsh (CK&W) accounts for only a fraction of the many modes of numerical abstraction. Contrary to their proposal, robust data from human infants and nonhuman animals indicate that abstract numerical representations are psychologically primitive. Additionally, much of the behavioral and neural data cited to support CK&W's proposal is, in fact, neutral on the issue of numerical abstraction.