NASCO: A New Method and Program to Generate Dot Arrays for Non-Symbolic Number Comparison Tasks


  • Mathieu Guillaume
  • Christine Schiltz
  • Amandine Van Rinsveld


Basic numerical abilities are generally assumed to influence more complex cognitive processes involving numbers, such as mathematics. Yet measuring non-symbolic number abilities remains challenging due to the intrinsic correlation between numerical and non-numerical dimensions of any visual scene. Several methods have been developed to generate non-symbolic stimuli controlling for the latter aspects but they tend to be difficult to replicate or implement. In this study, we describe the NASCO method, which is an extension to the method popularized by Dehaene, Izard, and Piazza (2005). Their procedure originally controlled for two visual dimensions that are mediated by Number: Total Area and Item Size (i.e., N = TA/IS). Here, we additionally propose to control for another twofold dimension related to the array extent, which is also mediated by Number: Convex Hull Area and Mean Occupancy (i.e., N = CH/MO). We illustrate the NASCO method with a MATLAB app—NASCO app—that allows easy generation of dot arrays for a visually controlled assessment of non-symbolic numerical abilities. Results from a numerical comparison task revealed that the introduction of this twofold dimension manipulation substantially affected young adults’ performance. In particular, we did not replicate the relation between non-symbolic number abilities and arithmetic skills. Our findings open the debate about the reliability of previous results that did not take into account visual features related to the array extent. We then discuss the strengths of NASCO method to assess numerical ability, as well as the benefits of its straightforward implementation in NASCO app for researchers.