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The cognitive underpinnings of non-symbolic comparison task performance

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posted on 15.04.2016, 11:32 authored by Sarah Clayton
Over the past twenty years, the Approximate Number System (ANS), a cognitive system for representing non-symbolic quantity information, has been the focus of much research attention. Psychologists seeking to understand how individuals learn and perform mathematics have investigated how this system might underlie symbolic mathematical skills. Dot comparison tasks are commonly used as measures of ANS acuity, however very little is known about the cognitive skills that are involved in completing these tasks. The aim of this thesis was to explore the factors that influence performance on dot comparison tasks and discuss the implications of these findings for future research and educational interventions. The first study investigated how the accuracy and reliability of magnitude judgements is influenced by the visual cue controls used to create dot array stimuli. This study found that participants performances on dot comparison tasks created with different visual cue controls were unrelated, and that stimuli generation methods have a substantial influence on test-retest reliability. The studies reported in the second part of this thesis (Studies 2, 3, 4 and 5) explored the role of inhibition in dot comparison task performance. The results of these studies provide evidence that individual differences in inhibition may, at least partially, explain individual differences in dot comparison task performance. Finally, a large multi-study re-analysis of dot comparison data investigated whether individuals take account of numerosity information over and above the visual cues of the stimuli when comparing dot arrays. This analysis revealed that dot comparison task performance may not reflect numerosity processing independently from visual cue processing for all participants, particularly children. This novel evidence may provide some clarification for conflicting results in the literature regarding the relationship between ANS acuity and mathematics achievement. The present findings call into question whether dot comparison tasks should continue to be used as valid measures of ANS acuity.



  • Science


  • Mathematical Sciences


© Sarah Clayton

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.