Numerical Magnitude Representations Explain the Mathematical "Learning Gap"

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The Ohio State University

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The mathematical “learning gap” between Chinese and American students exists since a very young age. Previous studies have focused on the correlations between children’s arithmetic performance and their general intelligence, symbolic numerical proficiency (e.g., the numerical number “4”), or non-symbolic numerical proficiency (e.g., four apples) within a single culture. The current study has two hypotheses: 1) Chinese preschoolers perform better in math than American preschoolers; and 2) Chinese children’s outperformance is because of their higher symbolic numerical proficiency. We sampled 80 children, 40 native to China and 40 native to America. The arithmetic performance was measured by the 1-minute speed addition task; the general intelligence was predicted by the digit coding task; and either of the numerical proficiencies (symbolic or non-symbolic) was measured by three different tasks: the number-line spatial task, the number comparison task, and the approximate addition task. In support of our hypotheses, Chinese children significantly outperformed American children in general mathematics, and symbolic numerical proficiency, rather than non-symbolic numerical proficiency or intelligence, mediated the effect of nation on children’s arithmetic performance. Spatial numerical proficiency also played an important role in producing cross-national differences in arithmetic ability. These results indicated that implementing a combination of symbolic and spatial numerical activities in early development is likely to prove more effectiveness in closing the “learning gap” between Chinese children and American children.


The 3rd Place of 20th Annual Denman Undergraduate Research Forum, OSU, Spring 2015
Top Winner of the 18th Psychology Undergraduate Research Colloquium, OSU, Autumn 2014


Numerical Magnitude, Children, Learning Gap, Mathematical Performance, Cognitive Development