Preschoolers' precision of the approximate number system predicts later school mathematics performance

Michèle M.M. Mazzocco, Lisa Feigenson, Justin Halberda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

316 Scopus citations


The Approximate Number System (ANS) is a primitive mental system of nonverbal representations that supports an intuitive sense of number in human adults, children, infants, and other animal species. The numerical approximations produced by the ANS are characteristically imprecise and, in humans, this precision gradually improves from infancy to adulthood. Throughout development, wide ranging individual differences in ANS precision are evident within age groups. These individual differences have been linked to formal mathematics outcomes, based on concurrent, retrospective, or short-term longitudinal correlations observed during the school age years. However, it remains unknown whether this approximate number sense actually serves as a foundation for these school mathematics abilities. Here we show that ANS precision measured at preschool, prior to formal instruction in mathematics, selectively predicts performance on school mathematics at 6 years of age. In contrast, ANS precision does not predict non-numerical cognitive abilities. To our knowledge, these results provide the first evidence for early ANS precision, measured before the onset of formal education, predicting later mathematical abilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23749
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 14 2011
Externally publishedYes


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