Number sense and mathematics: Which, when, and how?

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Developmental Psychology

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Tosto, M. G., Petrill, S. A., Malykh, S., Malki, K., Haworth, C. M. A., Mazzocco, M. M. M., . . . Kovas, Y. (2017). Number sense and mathematics: Which, when and how? Developmental Psychology, 53(10), 1924-1939. doi: 10.1037/dev0000331


Individual differences in number sense correlate with mathematical ability and performance, although the presence and strength of this relationship differs across studies. Inconsistencies in the literature may stem from heterogeneity of number sense and mathematical ability constructs. Sample characteristics may also play a role as changes in the relationship between number sense and mathematics may differ across development and cultural contexts. In this study, 4,984 16-year-old students were assessed on estimation ability, one aspect of number sense. Estimation was measured using 2 different tasks: number line and dot-comparison. Using cognitive and achievement data previously collected from these students at ages 7, 9, 10, 12, and 14, the study explored for which of the measures and when in development these links are observed, and how strong these links are and how much these links are moderated by other cognitive abilities. The 2 number sense measures correlated modestly with each other (r = .22), but moderately with mathematics at age 16. Both measures were also associated with earlier mathematics; but this association was uneven across development and was moderated by other cognitive abilities.