Deficits in Basic Number Competencies May Cause Low Numeracy in Primary School Children
Sixty-six primary school children were selected, of which 21 scored low on a standardized math achievement test, 23 were normal, and 22 high achievers. In a numerical Stroop experiment, children were asked to make numerical and physical size comparisons on digit pairs. The effects of congruity and numerical distance were determined. All children exhibited congruity and distance effects in the numerical comparison. In the physical comparison, children of all performance groups showed Stroop effects when the numerical distance between the digits was large but failed to show them when the distance was small. Numerical distance effects depended on the congruity condition, with a typical effect of distance in the congruent, and a reversed distance effect in the incongruent condition. Our results are hard to reconcile with theories that suggest that deficits in the automaticity of numerical processing can be related to differential math achievement levels. Immaturity in the precision of mappings between numbers and their numerical magnitudes might be better suited to explain the Stroop effects in children. However, as the results for the high achievers demonstrate, in addition to numerical processing capacity per se, domain-general functions might play a crucial role in Stroop performance, too.