Children's expectations about training the approximate number system

Moira R. Dillon, Ana C. Pires, Daniel C. Hyde, Elizabeth S. Spelke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans possess a developmentally precocious and evolutionarily ancient approximate number system (ANS) whose sensitivity correlates with uniquely human symbolic arithmetic skills. Recent studies suggest that ANS training improves symbolic arithmetic, but such studies may engender performance expectations in their participants that in turn produce the improvement. Here, we assessed 6- to 8-year-old children's expectations about the effects of numerical and non-numerical magnitude training, as well as states of satiety and restfulness, in the context of a study linking children's ANS practice to their improved symbolic arithmetic. We found that children did not expect gains in symbolic arithmetic after exercising the ANS, although they did expect gains in ANS acuity after training on any magnitude task. Moreover, children expected gains in symbolic arithmetic after a good night's sleep and their favourite breakfast. Thus, children's improved symbolic arithmetic after ANS training cannot be explained by their expectations about that training. Copyright

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-418
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2015


  • Approximate number system
  • Cognitive training
  • Expectations
  • Symbolic mathematics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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