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Abstract

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.