Varieties of Numerical Estimation: A Unified Framework


There is an ongoing debate over the psychophysical functions that best fit human data from numerical estimation tasks. To test whether one psychophysical function could account for data across diverse tasks, we examined 40 kindergartners, 38 first graders, 40 second graders and 40 adults’ estimates using two fully crossed 2 × 2 designs, crossing symbol (symbolic, non-symbolic) and boundedness (bounded, unbounded) on free number-line tasks (Experiment 1) and crossing the same factors on anchored tasks (Experiment 2). Across all 8 tasks, 88.84% of participants provided estimates best fit by a mixed log-linear model, and the weight of the logarithmic component (λ) decreased with age. After controlling for age, the λ significantly predicted arithmetic skills, whereas parameters of other models failed to do so. Results suggest that the logarithmic-to-linear shift theory provides a unified account of numerical estimation and provides uniquely accurate predictions for mathematical proficiency.

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