Children’s interpretation of relational language for numerical comparisons

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Cognitive Development

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Hurst, M. A., Greene, A., Eason, S. H., Claessens, A., & Levine, S. C. (2022). Children’s interpretation of relational language for numerical comparisons. Cognitive Development.


Numerical order and magnitude are important aspects of early number knowledge. We investigated children’s understanding of relational vocabulary for representing and communicating about order (before/after) and magnitude (bigger/smaller, more/less). In Experiment 1, 4- to 7-year-old children compared symbolic numbers, non-symbolic discrete quantities, and continuous amounts using relational words (N = 151). In Experiment 2, 4- to 6-year-old children made yes/no judgements of ordinal and magnitude relations between symbolic numbers (N = 60). Children showed lower performance with ordinal vocabulary compared to magnitude vocabulary (Experiment 1). Further, children were less likely to endorse the use of ordinal language for non-consecutive numbers than consecutive numbers, but showed no difference for magnitude language (e.g., 6 and 7 are bigger than 5, but only 6 comes after 5; Experiment 2). These results suggest a divergence in children’s understanding of magnitude and ordinal vocabulary, suggesting a dissociation between these two concepts and/or the language used to communicate about them.