Effects of non-symbolic approximate number practice on symbolic numerical abilities in Pakistani children

Saeeda Khanum, Rubina Hanif, Elizabeth S. Spelke, Ilaria Berteletti, Daniel C. Hyde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Current theories of numerical cognition posit that uniquely human symbolic number abilities connect to an early developing cognitive system for representing approximate numerical magnitudes, the approximate number system (ANS). In support of this proposal, recent laboratory- based training experiments with U.S. children show enhanced performance on symbolic addition after brief practice comparing or adding arrays of dots without counting: tasks that engage the ANS. Here we explore the nature and generality of this effect through two brief training experiments. In Experiment 1, elementary school children in Pakistan practiced either a non-symbolic numerical addition task or a line-length addition task with no numerical content, and then were tested on symbolic addition. After training, children in the numerical training group completed the symbolic addition test faster than children in the line length training group, suggesting a causal role of brief, non-symbolic numerical training on exact, symbolic addition. These findings replicate and extend the core findings of a recent U.S. laboratory-based study to non-Western children tested in a school setting, attesting to the robustness and generalizability of the observed training effects. Experiment 2 tested whether ANS training would also enhance the consistency of performance on a symbolic number line task. Over several analyses of the data there was some evidence that approximate number training enhanced symbolic number line placements relative to control conditions. Together, the findings suggest that engagement of the ANS through brief training procedures enhances children's immediate attention to number and engagement with symbolic number tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0164436
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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