Attention to numerosity varies across individuals and task contexts

Michèle M.M. Mazzocco, Jenny Yun Chen Chan, Jeffrey K. Bye, Emily R. Padrutt, Taylor Praus-Singh, Sarah Lukowski, Ethan Brown, Rachel E. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Children’s spontaneous focus on numerosity (SFON) is described as an unprompted tendency that is stable across contexts. The attention to number task (AtN), an experimental forced-choice picture-matching task designed to evaluate select aspects of children’s focus on numerosity, may reveal whether task materials can implicitly prompt children to focus on numerosity. In two studies, we replicate earlier findings showing an effect of task context on children’s performance on the AtN: When asked to identify one or more matches to a target picture from an array of four options, the frequency with which preschoolers and adults identify a numerosity-based match varies as a function of the features on which the remaining match options are based. We addressed a limitation of the original AtN study by including novel combinations of features as additional trials, with which we continued to demonstrate contextual effects. We also showed that adults seemed more susceptible than children to be primed to attend to numerosity on subsequent trials. Children’s focus on numerosity under these experimental conditions was remarkably low. We discuss the implications of these findings for better understanding the SFON construct.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-280
Number of pages23
JournalMathematical Thinking and Learning
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NSF Award #1644748 awarded to the first author. Study 1 was partially supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation Award 2016-078, as part of the Development and Research in Early Mathematics Education (DREME) Network. A portion of Study 1 was completed by TP-S as partial fulfillment of her Bachelor’s degree honors thesis, University of Minnesota. Study 2 was partially supported by a University of Minnesota Grant In Aid Program Award, awarded to the first author. The authors thank the many participants in both studies, and research assistants from the Math and Numeracy Lab at University of Minnesota involved in data collection, scoring, and, entry. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Michèle Mazzocco, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455 USA. Email:

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • Numerosity
  • SFON
  • attention to number
  • contextual effects
  • early mathematics


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