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Nonsymbolic comparison tasks are widely used to measure children's and adults' approximate number system (ANS) acuity. Recent evidence has demonstrated that task performance can be influenced by changes to the visual characteristics of the stimuli, leading some researchers to suggest it is unlikely that an ANS exists that can extract number information independently of the visual characteristics of the arrays. Here, we analysed 124 children's and 120 adults' dot comparison accuracy scores from three separate studies to investigate individual and developmental differences in how numerical and visual information contribute to nonsymbolic numerosity judgements. We found that, in contrast to adults, the majority of children did not use numerical information over and above visual cue information to compare quantities. This finding was consistent across different studies. The results have implications for research on the relationship between dot comparison performance and formal mathematics achievement. Specifically, if most children's performance on dot comparison tasks can be accounted for without the involvement of numerical information, it seems unlikely that observed correlations with mathematics achievement stem from ANS acuity alone.

Original publication




Journal article


Q J Exp Psychol (Hove)

Publication Date





436 - 445


Approximate number system, nonsymbolic comparison task, numerical cognition, visual cues, Adult, Child, Child Development, Female, Humans, Judgment, Male, Mathematical Concepts, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Young Adult