Mapping Among Number Words, Numerals, and Nonsymbolic Quantities in Preschoolers


In mathematically literate societies, numerical information is represented in 3 distinct codes: a verbal code (i.e., number words); a digital, symbolic code (e.g., Arabic numerals); and an analogical code (i.e., quantities; Dehaene, 1992). To communicate effectively using these numerical codes, our understanding of number must involve an understanding of each representation as well as how they map to other representations. In the current study, we looked at 3- and 4-year-old children’s understanding of Arabic numerals in relation to both quantities and number words. The results suggest that the mapping between quantities and numerals is more difficult than the mapping between numerals and number words and between number words and quantities. Thus, we compared 2 competing models designed to investigate how children represent the meanings of Arabic numbers—whether numerals are mapped directly to the quantities they represent or instead if numerals are mapped to quantities indirectly via a direct mapping to number words. We found support for the latter suggesting that children may first map numerals to number words (another symbolic representation) and only through this mapping are numerals subsequently tied to the quantities they represent. In addition, unlike both mappings involving quantity, the mapping between the 2 symbolic representations of number (numerals and number words) was not set-size-dependent, therefore providing further evidence that children may map symbols to other symbols in the absence of a quantity referent. Together, the results provide new insight into the important processes involved in how children acquire an understanding of symbolic representations of number.

Journal of Cognition and Development
Michelle Hurst
Michelle Hurst
Assistant Professor

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