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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“That’s not right!” : error detection as a potential mediator between the number sense and formal math in children Gil Brandão, Maria Clara


As humans, we use math every day in our lives, both precisely – like calculating the result of an equation – and imprecisely – like estimating the time needed for a task. Our ability to think about math precisely – “formal math” – is underpinned by years of learning and practice, and shows large cultural variability. But our imprecise sense of number – our Approximate Number System (ANS) – is innate, perceptual, and universal. Despite their differences, formal math and the ANS have been shown to correlate throughout childhood. Here, I investigate one potential mechanism of this relationship: error detection. This refers to our capacity to notice mistakes in solutions for math equations. In Experiment 1 (N = 58), we develop a novel task for measuring individual and developmental differences in formal math error detection in children 5 – 8 years of age. Replicating work in adults, we find a robust relationship between error detection and the ANS. In Experiment 2 (N = 76), we then also measure formal math differences in children with a standardized test, hoping to find out if error detection is a mediator of the correlation between formal math and the ANS. Contrary to our predictions, results from Experiment 2 revealed no correlation between the ANS and formal math. I explore various reasons to this lack of correlation and suggest future directions to this line of research.

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