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Number-specific and general cognitive markers of preschoolers' math ability profiles


Different number-specific and general cognitive markers have been claimed to underlie preschoolers' math ability. It is unclear, however, whether similar/different cognitive markers, or combinations of them, are associated with different patterns of emerging math abilities (i.e., different patterns of strength and weakness). To examine this question, 103 preschoolers (40-60 months of age) completed six math tasks (count sequence, object counting, give a number, naming numbers, ordinal relations, and arithmetic), three number-specific markers of math ability (dot enumeration, magnitude comparison, and spontaneous focusing on numerosity), and four general markers (working memory, response inhibition, attention, and vocabulary). A three-step latent profile modeling procedure identified five math ability profiles that differed in their patterns of math strengths and weaknesses; specifically, the profiles were characterized by (a) excellent math ability on all math tasks, (b) good arithmetic ability, (c) good math ability but relatively poor count sequence recitation ability, (d) average ability on all math tasks, and (e) poor ability on all math tasks. After controlling for age, only dot enumeration and spontaneous focusing on numerosity were associated with the math ability profiles, whereas vocabulary was also marginally significant, and these markers were differentially associated with different profiles; that is, different cognitive markers were associated with different patterns of strengths and weaknesses in math abilities. Findings are discussed in terms of their implications for the development of math cognition. (author abstract)

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