Of Huge Mice and Tiny Elephants: Exploring the Relationship Between Inhibitory Processes and Preschool Math Skills.
Merkley R., Thompson J., Scerif G.
The cognitive mechanisms underpinning the well-established relationship between inhibitory control and early maths skills remain unclear. We hypothesized that a specific aspect of inhibitory control drives its association with distinct math skills in very young children: the ability to ignore stimulus dimensions that are in conflict with task-relevant representations. We used an Animal Size Stroop task in which 3- to 6-year-olds were required to ignore the physical size of animal pictures to compare their real-life dimensions. In Experiment 1 (N = 58), performance on this task correlated with standardized early mathematics achievement. In Experiment 2 (N = 48), performance on the Animal Size Stroop task related to the accuracy of magnitude comparison, specifically for trials on which the physical size of dot arrays was incongruent with their numerosity. This highlights a process-oriented relationship between interference control and resolving conflict between discrete and continuous quantity, and in turn calls for further detailed empirical investigations of whether, how and why inhibitory processes matter to emerging numerical cognition.