123s and ABCs: developmental shifts in logarithmic-to-linear responding reflect fluency with sequence values


When placing numbers along a number line with endpoints 0 and 1000, children generally space numbers logarithmically until around the age of 7, when they shift to a predominantly linear pattern of responding. This developmental shift of responding on the number placement task has been argued to be indicative of a shift in the format of the underlying representation of number (Siegler & Opfer, 2003). In the current study, we provide evidence from both child and adult participants to suggest that performance on the number placement task may not reflect the structure of the mental number line, but instead is a function of the fluency (i.e. ease) with which the individual can work with the values in the sequence. In Experiment 1, adult participants respond logarithmically when placing numbers on a line with less familiar anchors (1639 to 2897), despite linear responding on control tasks with standard anchors involving a similar range (0 to 1287) and a similar numerical magnitude (2000 to 3000). In Experiment 2, we show a similar developmental shift in childhood from logarithmic to linear responding for a non-numerical sequence with no inherent magnitude (the alphabet). In conclusion, we argue that the developmental trend towards linear behavior on the number line task is a product of successful strategy use and mental fluency with the values of the sequence, resulting from familiarity with endpoints and increased knowledge about general ordering principles of the sequence.

Developmental Science
Michelle Hurst
Michelle Hurst
Assistant Professor

My research interests include mathematical development and variations in performance across contexts.