Attention to numerosity varies across individuals and task contexts

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Mathematical Thinking and Learning

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Mazzocco, M. M., Chan, J. Y. C., Bye, J. K., Padrutt, E. R., Praus-Singh, T., Lukowski, S., Brown, E.C., & Olson, R. E. (2020). Attention to numerosity varies across individuals and task contexts. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 22(4), 258-280.


Children’s spontaneous focus on numerosity (SFON) is described as an unprompted tendency that is stable across contexts. The attention to number task (AtN), an experimental forced-choice picture-matching task designed to evaluate select aspects of children’s focus on numerosity, may reveal whether task materials can implicitly prompt children to focus on numerosity. In two studies, we replicate earlier findings showing an effect of task context on children’s performance on the AtN: When asked to identify one or more matches to a target picture from an array of four options, the frequency with which preschoolers and adults identify a numerosity-based match varies as a function of the features on which the remaining match options are based. We addressed a limitation of the original AtN study by including novel combinations of features as additional trials, with which we continued to demonstrate contextual effects. We also showed that adults seemed more susceptible than children to be primed to attend to numerosity on subsequent trials. Children’s focus on numerosity under these experimental conditions was remarkably low. We discuss the implications of these findings for better understanding the SFON construct.