Making Sense of the Relation Between Number Sense and Math


  • Bert Reynvoet Orcid
  • Andrew D. Ribner Orcid
  • Leanne Elliott Orcid
  • Manon Van Steenkiste
  • Delphine Sasanguie Orcid
  • Melissa E. Libertus Orcid


While several studies have shown that the performance on numerosity comparison tasks is related to individual differences in math abilities, others have failed to find such a link. These inconsistencies could be due to variations in which math was assessed, different stimulus generation protocols for the numerosity comparison task, or differences in inhibitory control. This within-subject study is a conceptual replication tapping into the relation between numerosity comparison, math, and inhibition in adults (N = 122). Three aspects of math ability were measured using standardized assessments: Arithmetic fluency, calculation, and applied problem solving skills. Participants’ inhibitory skills were measured using Stroop and Go/No-Go tasks with numerical and non-numerical stimuli. Finally, non-symbolic number sense was measured using two different versions of a numerosity comparison task that differed in the stimulus generation protocols (Panamath; Halberda, Mazzocco & Feigenson, 2008,; G&R, Gebuis & Reynvoet, 2011, We find that performance on the Panamath task, but not the G&R task, related to measures of calculation and applied problem solving but not arithmetic fluency, even when controlling for inhibitory control. One possible explanation is that depending on the characteristics of the stimuli in the numerosity comparison task, the reliance on numerical and non-numerical information may vary and only when performance relies more on numerical representations, a relation with math achievement is found. Our findings help to explain prior mixed findings regarding the link between non-symbolic number sense and math and highlight the need to carefully consider variations in numerosity comparison tasks and math measures.