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Abstract

There are two different conceptions of the innate basis for numerical abilities. On the one hand, it is claimed that infants possess a ‘number module’ that enables them to construct concepts of the exact numerosities of sets upon which arithmetic develops (e.g. Butterworth, 1999; Gelman & Gallistel, 1978). On the other hand, it has been proposed that infants are equipped only with a sense of approximate numerosities (e.g. Feigenson, Dehaene & Spelke, 2004), upon which the concepts of exact numerosities are constructed with the aid of language (Carey, 2004) and which forms the basis of arithmetic (Lemer, Dehaene, Spelke & Cohen, 2003). These competing proposals were tested by assessing whether performance on approximate numerosity tasks is related to performance on exact numerosity tasks. Moreover, performance on an analogue magnitude task was tested, since it has been claimed that approximate numerosities are represented as analogue magnitudes. In 8–9-year-olds, no relationship was found between exact tasks and either approximate or analogue tasks in normally achieving children, in children with low numeracy or in children with developmental dyscalculia. Low numeracy was related not to a poor grasp of exact numerosities, but to a poor understanding of symbolic numerals.