The development of numerical estimation: evidence against a representational shift


Hilary Barth, Department of Psychology, Wesleyan University, 207 High St, Middletown, CT 06459, USA; e-mail:


How do our mental representations of number change over development? The dominant view holds that children (and adults) possess multiple representations of number, and that age and experience lead to a shift from greater reliance upon logarithmically organized number representations to greater reliance upon more accurate, linear representations. Here we present a new theoretically motivated and empirically supported account of the development of numerical estimation, based on the idea that number-line estimation tasks entail judgments of proportion. We extend existing models of perceptual proportion judgment to the case of abstract numerical magnitude. Two experiments provide support for these models; three likely sources of developmental change in children’s estimation performance are identified and discussed. This work demonstrates that proportion-judgment models provide a unified account of estimation patterns that have previously been explained in terms of a developmental shift from logarithmic to linear representations of number.