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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Thinking about quantity: the intertwined development of spatial and numerical cognition

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There are many continuous quantitative dimensions in the physical world. Philosophical, psychological, and neural work has focused mostly on space and number. However, there are other important continuous dimensions (e.g., time and mass). Moreover, space can be broken down into more specific dimensions (e.g., length, area, and density) and number can be conceptualized discretely or continuously (i.e., natural vs real numbers). Variation on these quantitative dimensions is typically correlated, e.g., larger objects often weigh more than smaller ones. Number is a distinctive continuous dimension because the natural numbers (i.e., positive integers) are used to quantify collections of discrete objects. This aspect of number is emphasized by teaching of the count word sequence and arithmetic during the early school years. We review research on spatial and numerical estimation, and argue that a generalized magnitude system is the starting point for development in both domains. Development occurs along several lines: (1) changes in capacity, durability, and precision, (2) differentiation of the generalized magnitude system into separable dimensions, (3) formation of a discrete number system, i.e., the positive integers, (4) mapping the positive integers onto the continuous number line, and (5) acquiring abstract knowledge of the relations between pairs of systems. We discuss implications of this approach for teaching various topics in mathematics, including scaling, measurement, proportional reasoning, and fractions. WIREs Cogn Sci 2015, 6:491–505. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1369

Quintic function describing spatial memory in 10‐year‐old children. Based on Ref. .
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Examples of continuous and discrete proportional matching tasks. Adapted from Ref. .
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Test item assessing children's understanding of measurement.
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Predictions of a proportion‐judgment model of the number line task. Panel C shows the pattern expected with the midpoint used as a reference. Taken from Ref. , Figure .
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Two types of quantity.
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Psychology > Development and Aging
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