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Spontaneous mapping of number and space in adults and young children



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NIH Public Access Author Manuscript Cognition Author manuscript available in PMC 2010 February 1 NIH PA Author Manuscript Published in final edited form as Cognition 2009 February 110 2 198 207 doi 10 1016 j cognition 2008 11 003 Spontaneous mapping of number and space in adults and young children Maria Dolores de Hevia1 2 and Elizabeth S Spelke1 1 Laboratory for Developmental Studies Harvard University USA 2 Dipartimento di Psicologia Universit degli Studi di Milano Bicocca Italy Abstract NIH PA Author Manuscript Mature representations of space and number are connected to one another in ways suggestive of a mental number line but this mapping could either be a cultural construction or a reflection of a more fundamental link between the domains of number and geometry Using a manual bisection paradigm we tested for number line representations in adults young school children and preschool children Non symbolic numerical displays systematically distorted localization of the midpoint of a horizontal line at all three ages Numerical and spatial representations therefore are linked prior to the onset of formal instruction in a manner that suggests a privileged relation between spatial and numerical cognition Introduction Some of the central achievements of formal mathematics depend on the mapping between number and space e g Descartes 1637 2001 Euclid in Heath 1956 Fundamental to this mapping and to measurement is the arrangement of numbers on a line Is the number line a product of human invention and cultural innovation or does it spring from a basic propensity of the human mind to link representations of space and number We explore this issue through studies of adults and children NIH PA Author Manuscript The best evidence for mental number lines comes from studies of the impact of spatial information on adults numerical processing When adults identify or compare numbers they automatically activate an internal representation of a directional spatial continuum Dehaene



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