Approximate Number System and Mathematics

Humans use their intuitive sense of quantity to guide a variety of everyday life decisions. The cognitive system that supports this intuitive skill, often referred to as the approximate number system (ANS), is present in human infants, has been observed in non-human animals, and is widespread across diverse ...

Humans use their intuitive sense of quantity to guide a variety of everyday life decisions. The cognitive system that supports this intuitive skill, often referred to as the approximate number system (ANS), is present in human infants, has been observed in non-human animals, and is widespread across diverse cultures. Beyond approximate numbers, humans in various societies use numbers in a formal symbolic number system, i.e., mathematics. Although symbolic and non-symbolic numerical representations differ in many aspects, a lot of recent studies have explored the association between the ANS and math. Correlational studies have found modest positive correlations, training studies have suggested potential causal relationships, and scholars have proposed several theoretical accounts of the association. Nevertheless, we are far from understanding the mechanisms that underlie this relationship. Accordingly, the goal of this Research Topic is to facilitate our understanding of the relationship by exploring several potential perspectives listed below.

1. Measurement of the ANS. To explore the association between the ANS and math, researchers should first measure the ANS in an accurate and efficient manner. Thus, this topic will explore potential ways to improve the psychometric properties of well-established paradigms (e.g., the dot comparison task) or the development of new paradigms that measure the ANS.

2. Correlation studies. A majority of extant studies have used correlation-based methods to explore the association between the ANS and math in the normal population. To extend the extant literature, submissions of correlation studies may: 1) use novel ways to measure the ANS and math performance; 2) investigate the association using longitudinal data and/or latent variable modeling; 3) perform strict controls of confounding variables.

3. Assessment of the ANS in individuals with math learning difficulties (MLD). Studies that examine the ANS in individuals with MLD are welcome. These investigations not only help in the theoretical understanding of the relationship between the ANS and math, but also may provide insights into the diagnosis and treatment of the MLD.

4. Training studies. Training data is indispensable in exploring the causal link between the ANS and math. Both the ANS and mathematical cognition could be trained, and researchers may assess potential subsequent changes in the untrained factor. However, only a few trained data have been accumulated, and the results are somewhat contradictory. Therefore, submissions of rigorous training studies are welcome.

5. Neuroscience perspective. It will be interesting to look at the common neural underpinnings of the ANS and math by using neuroscience techniques (e.g., magnetic resonance imaging).

6. Educational perspective. What are the practical consequences of the association between the ANS and math? Specifically, how could relevant research aid learning and teaching of math in classrooms?

7. Theoretical accounts of the association. Theoretical discussions that facilitate our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the association between the ANS and math are welcome.

Finally, even beyond the above perspectives, any rigorous scientific investigations on the association between the ANS and math are welcome.

Keywords: approximate number system, number sense, non-symbolic number acuity, numerical cognition, mathematics

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