Knowing right from wrong in mental arithmetic judgments: Calibration of confidence predicts the development of accuracy

Luke F. Rinne, Michèle M.M. Mazzocco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Does knowing when mental arithmetic judgments are right - and when they are wrong - lead to more accurate judgments over time? We hypothesize that the successful detection of errors (and avoidance of false alarms) may contribute to the development of mental arithmetic performance. Insight into error detection abilities can be gained by examining the "calibration" of mental arithmetic judgments - that is, the alignment between confidence in judgments and the accuracy of those judgments. Calibration may be viewed as a measure of metacognitive monitoring ability. We conducted a developmental longitudinal investigation of the relationship between the calibration of children's mental arithmetic judgments and their performance on a mental arithmetic task. Annually between Grades 5 and 8, children completed a problem verification task in which they rapidly judged the accuracy of arithmetic expressions (e.g., 25+50 = 75) and rated their confidence in each judgment. Results showed that calibration was strongly related to concurrent mental arithmetic performance, that calibration continued to develop even as mental arithmetic accuracy approached ceiling, that poor calibration distinguished children with mathematics learning disability from both low and typically achieving children, and that better calibration in Grade 5 predicted larger gains in mental arithmetic accuracy between Grades 5 and 8. We propose that good calibration supports the implementation of cognitive control, leading to long-term improvement in mental arithmetic accuracy. Because mental arithmetic "fluency" is critical for higher-level mathematics competence, calibration of confidence in mental arithmetic judgments may represent a novel and important developmental predictor of future mathematics performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere98663
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2 2014


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