Brief Report

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 18, Issue 6, pp 1222-1229

First online:

Non-verbal number acuity correlates with symbolic mathematics achievement: But only in children

  • Matthew InglisAffiliated withLoughborough University Email author 
  • , Nina AttridgeAffiliated withLoughborough University
  • , Sophie BatchelorAffiliated withLoughborough UniversityUniversity of Nottingham
  • , Camilla GilmoreAffiliated withLoughborough UniversityUniversity of Nottingham


The process by which adults develop competence in symbolic mathematics tasks is poorly understood. Nonhuman animals, human infants, and human adults all form nonverbal representations of the approximate numerosity of arrays of dots and are capable of using these representations to perform basic mathematical operations. Several researchers have speculated that individual differences in the acuity of such nonverbal number representations provide the basis for individual differences in symbolic mathematical competence. Specifically, prior research has found that 14-year-old children’s ability to rapidly compare the numerosities of two sets of colored dots is correlated with their mathematics achievements at ages 5–11. In the present study, we demonstrated that although when measured concurrently the same relationship holds in children, it does not hold in adults. We conclude that the association between nonverbal number acuity and mathematics achievement changes with age and that nonverbal number representations do not hold the key to explaining the wide variety of mathematical performance levels in adults.


Mathematical cognition Mental arithmetic