Revisiting and Refining Relations Between Nonsymbolic Ratio Processing and Symbolic Math Achievement


  • Yunji Park Orcid
  • Percival G. Matthews Orcid


In their 2016 Psych Science article, Matthews, Lewis and Hubbard (2016, leveled a challenge against the prevailing theory that fractions—as opposed to whole numbers—are incompatible with humans’ primitive nonsymbolic number sense. Their ratio processing system (RPS) account holds that humans possess a primitive system that confers the ability to process nonysmbolic ratio magnitudes. Perhaps the most striking finding from Matthews et al. was that ratio processing ability predicted symbolic fractions knowledge and algebraic competence. The purpose of the current study was to replicate Matthews et al.’s novel results and to extend the study by including a control measure of fluid intelligence and an additional nonsymbolic magnitude format as predictors of multiple symbolic math outcomes. Ninety-nine college students completed three comparison tasks deciding which of two nonsymbolic ratios was numerically larger along with three simple magnitude comparison tasks in corresponding formats that served as controls. The formats included were lines, circles, and dots. We found that RPS acuity predicted fractions knowledge for three university math placement exam subtests when controlling for simple magnitude acuities and inhibitory control. However, this predictive power of the RPS measure appeared to stem primarily from acuity of the line-ratio format, and that predictive power was attenuated with the inclusion of fluid intelligence. These findings may help refine theories positing the RPS as a domain-specific foundation for building fractional knowledge and related higher mathematics.