Children's Cardinality Knowledge Isn't Always Beneficial

Jike Qin, John Opfer

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


A milestone in cognitive development is understanding numerals to represent the exact number of discrete items in a set (i.e., the cardinal principle). This development has received much attention, but little is known about its relation to understanding numbers as measures of continuous quantity (e.g., “six blocks long” versus “six blocks”). To investigate this, 90 children were asked to complete two tasks: a give-a-number task, to assess cardinality knowledge, and a novel give-a-line task, to assess measurement knowledge. As expected, accuracy was greater on the give-a-number task than the give-a-line task. More unexpectedly, the quality of performance on the give-a-number task was as often negatively associated with quality of performance on the give-a-line task as it was positive correlated. Specifically, when asked to create a line N-blocks long, children who gave only approximately correct answers on the give-a-number task often outperformed children who gave exactly correct answers on the same task. These findings indicate that an approximate-and purportedly less mature-understanding of number possesses the hidden strength of being more flexible and suitable for measuring length.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes
Event44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Cognitive Diversity, CogSci 2022 - Toronto, Canada
Duration: 27 Jul 202230 Jul 2022


Conference44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Cognitive Diversity, CogSci 2022


  • cardinality
  • children
  • continuous
  • number


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