The nonsymbolic quantitative rudiments of mathematics proficiency in early childhood
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] A broad synthesis of comparative and developmental research on numerical cognition suggests that humans share with nonhuman animals, an evolutionarily conserved nonverbal facility to discriminate and represent quantity. It has been suggested that this nonsymbolic quantitative ability may comprise two separate systems-one that processes number (i.e., discrete quantities) and another for area (i.e., continuous quantities). In this paper, I will review the research on number and area discrimination ability in early childhood and the influence of these nonsymbolic quantitative abilities on early symbolic mathematics proficiency. Preliminary results from a longitudinal study on preschoolers' numerical abilities are consistent with a single, generalized magnitude system of nonsymbolic quantitative competence (Study 1). Continuous quantitative ability appears to be more important for mathematics achievement relative to discrete quantitative ability during the first year of preschool and vice versa for the second year of preschool; however, neither evolved ability appears to be a strong predictor of mathematics performance compared to symbolic quantitative knowledge, such as cardinality (Study 2). Importantly, discrete quantitative ability appears to combine with another evolved cognitive resource-the object tracking system-to predict cardinality (Study 3), thereby suggesting a potential mechanism by which inherent cognitive abilities interact to produce early symbolic number knowledge. In sum, these results further inform our understanding of how the development of symbolic mathematics competence may be built upon early emerging, native nonsymbolic quantitative abilities.
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