Executive function and magnitude skills in preschool children

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27 Scopus citations


Executive function (EF) has been highlighted as a potentially important factor for mathematical understanding. The relation has been well established in school-aged children but has been less explored at younger ages. The current study investigated the relation between EF and mathematics in preschool-aged children. Participants were 142 typically developing 3- and 4-year-olds. Controlling for verbal ability, a significant positive correlation was found between EF and general math abilities in this age group. Importantly, we further examined this relation causally by varying the EF load on a magnitude comparison task. Results suggested a developmental pattern where 3-year-olds' performance on the magnitude comparison task was worst when EF was taxed the most. Conversely, 4-year-olds performed well on the magnitude task despite varying EF demands, suggesting that EF might play a critical role in the development of math concepts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-139
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support for this study was provided by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Grant T32 HD00715 (to E.O.P.), National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Fellowship 00039202 (to E.O.P.), and Grant R01HD1495 (to S.M.C.). Many thanks go to the research assistants involved in testing, the members of the Developmental Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, and the children and families who participated in this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Inc..


  • Early childhood
  • Executive function
  • Magnitude
  • Mathematics
  • Numerical concepts
  • Preschool children


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