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06-03-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 2/2016

Psychological Research 2/2016

Assessing the Approximate Number System: no relation between numerical comparison and estimation tasks

Psychological Research > Uitgave 2/2016
Mathieu Guillaume, Wim Gevers, Alain Content


Whether our general numerical skills and the mathematical knowledge that we acquire at school are entwined is a debated issue, which many researchers are still striving to investigate. The findings reported in the literature are actually inconsistent; some studies emphasized the existence of a relationship between the acuity of the Approximate Number System (ANS) and arithmetic competence, while some others did not observe any significant correlation. One potential explanation of the discrepancy might stem from the evaluation of the ANS itself. In the present study, we correlated two measures used to index ANS acuity with arithmetic performance. These measures were the Weber fraction (w), computed from a numerical comparison task and the coefficient of variation (CV), computed from a numerical estimation task. Arithmetic performance correlated with estimation CV but not with comparison w. We further investigated the meaning of this result by taking the relationship between w and CV into account. We expected a tight relation as both these measures are believed to assess ANS acuity. Crucially, however, w and CV did not correlate with each other. Moreover, the value of w was modulated by the congruity of the relation between numerical magnitude and non-numerical visual cues, potentially accounting for the lack of correlation between the measures. Our findings thus challenge the overuse of w to assess ANS acuity and more generally put into question the relevance of correlating this measure with arithmetic without any deeper understanding of what they are really indexing.

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