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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Pragmatic impacts on children’s understanding of exact equality


The distinctly human ability to both represent number exactly and develop symbolic number systems has raised the question of whether such number concepts are culturally constructed through symbolic systems. Although previous work with innumerate and semi-numerate groups has provided some evidence that understanding exact equality is related to numeracy, it is possible that previous failures were driven by pragmatic factors, rather than the absence of conceptual knowledge. Here, we test whether such factors affect performance on a test of exact equality in 3- to 5-year-old children by modifying previous methods to draw children’s attention to number. We find no effect of highlighting exact equality, either through framing the task as a “Number” game or as a “Sharing” game. Instead, we replicate previous findings showing a link between numeracy and an understanding of exact equality, strengthening the proposal that exact number concepts are facilitated by the acquisition of symbolic number systems.

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