Cultural Differences in Numerical Magnitude Processing

This DIPF 2015 project focused on investigating in how far cultural differences as found in international comparisons of student achievement in mathematics are also evident in basic numerical skills.

Project Description

Large-scale assessments of mathematical school achievement have revealed substantial cultural differences, with students from Asian countries showing top achievement levels, particularly Chinese students from Shanghai (see PISA 2009). This research project focused on the question whether similar cultural differences also concern basic numerical skills.

Findings from a pilot study indicated that Chinese adults do not only outperform German adults in arithmetic tests, but are also faster in processing approximate numerical magnitude comparisons without making any more errors. It is however unclear whether such a cultural difference also concerns the exact representation of small quantities. To answer this question, Chinese and German adults were compared with respect to their performance in retrieving exact representations of small quantities. Another open question is whether the superior performance of Chinese adults in processing speed in approximate numerical magnitude comparisons is caused by a stronger engagement with mathematical contents in the course of schooling or whether independent cultural differences exist. To pursue this question, Chinese and German preschool children were compared with respect to their numerical magnitude processing skills.


  • Prof. Dr. Song Yan, Jacobs University Bremen; Yunnan Normal University Kunming, China
  • Associate Prof. Dr. Su Li, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing

Project Details

Completed Projects
Department: Education and Human Development
11/2013 – 12/2015