Symbiotic Symbols: Symbolic (but not Nonsymbolic) Number Representation Predicts Calculation Fluency in Adults

Adam T. NewtonKing’s University College at Western University
Rylan J. WaringKing’s University College at Western University
Marcie Penner-WilgerKing’s University College at Western University

Abstract

There is debate in the numerical cognition literature concerning symbolic and nonsymbolic number representation systems as foundations for more complex mathematical skills. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relation between these number representation systems and calculation fluency. The present study used 51 university students. Participants completed symbolic and nonsymbolic magnitude comparison and ordinality tasks on an iPad as well as a pen-and-paper version of the addition and subtraction-multiplication subtest of the Kit of Factor-Referenced Cognitive Tests (French, Ekstron, & Price, 1963). Data reductions were performed and a symbolic and a nonsymbolic factor were constructed. A multiple regression analysis revealed that the symbolic factor was a significant predictor of calculation fluency, but the nonsymbolic factor was not. Two separate repeated measures ANOVAs revealed 3-way interactions between task, distance, and format for both accuracy and response time. These results support the view that the two systems develop separately.

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