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Differences in Arithmetic Performance Between Chinese and German Adults Are Accompanied by Differences in Processing of Non-symbolic Numerical Magnitude

What are the differences in Chinese and German university students’ performance regarding arithmetic and numerical magnitude comparison tasks?

Human beings are assumed to possess an approximate number system (ANS) dedicated to extracting and representing approximate numerical magnitude information. The ANS is assumed to be fundamental to arithmetic learning and has been shown to be associated with arithmetic performance. It is, however, still a matter of debate whether better arithmetic skills are reflected in the ANS. To address this issue, Chinese and German adults were compared regarding their performance in simple arithmetic tasks and in a non-symbolic numerical magnitude comparison task. Chinese participants showed a better performance in solving simple arithmetic tasks and faster reaction times in the non-symbolic numerical magnitude comparison task without making more errors than their German peers. These differences in performance could not be ascribed to differences in general cognitive abilities. Better arithmetic skills were thus found to be accompanied by a higher speed of retrieving non-symbolic numerical magnitude knowledge but not by a higher precision of non-symbolic numerical magnitude representations. The group difference in the speed of retrieving non-symbolic numerical magnitude knowledge was fully mediated by the performance in arithmetic tasks, suggesting that arithmetic skills shape non-symbolic numerical magnitude processing skills.

Screenshot Differences in arithmetic performanceLonnemann, J., Li, S., Zhao, P., Li, P., Linkersdörfer, J., Lindberg, S., Hasselhorn, M. & Yan, S. (2017). PLoS ONE, 12, e0174991. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0174991

Freely available here.


last modified Jan 31, 2018
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