Document Type


Publication Date

January 2013

Publication Title

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General

First Page


Last Page



Mental representations of numerical magnitude are commonly thought to undergo discontinuous change over development in the form of a “representational shift.” This idea stems from an apparent categorical shift from logarithmic to linear patterns of numerical estimation on tasks that involve translating between numerical magnitudes and spatial positions (such as number-line estimation). However, the observed patterns of performance are broadly consistent with a fundamentally different view, based on psychophysical modeling of proportion estimation, that explains the data without appealing to discontinuous change in mental representations of numerical magnitude. The present study assessed these 2 theories' abilities to account for the development of numerical estimation in 5- through 10-year-olds. The proportional account explained estimation patterns better than the logarithmic-to-linear-shift account for all age groups, at both group and individual levels. These findings contribute to our understanding of the nature and development of the mental representation of number and have more general implications for theories of cognitive developmental change.


Copyright © 2013 American Psychological Association.This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record. DOI: 10.1037/a0028560.

Included in

Education Commons