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NUMSPACE-Variability: How and why do number-space interactions differ between individuals?

A major challenge in math classes is the fact that numerical concepts and symbols are abstract. Especially for young children, this abstractness stands in contrast to their preference of concrete situations and problems. But even in adults, the abstract nature of numbers and mathematical operations often remains challenging. Recently, it has been proposed that even the most abstract concepts, such as numbers, are rooted in concrete body-related processes – an idea termed “embodied cognition”. Here we will analyze how number concepts relate to the concrete aspect of space and specifically focus on individual differences within this domain. Whereas previous studies focused on the mechanisms underlying number-space interactions, there are almost no data on how and why persons vary with respect to these interactions. In the present PhD project we will focus on this important question in order to better understand how abstract number presentations arise.

First we will provide a systematic investigation on the relationship between number-space interactions measured with the SNARC effect (Dehaene et al., 1993) and mathematical proficiency in typically and atypically developing participants (including young university students with and without dyscalculia, adolescents with ADHD and elderly participants). Furthermore the influence of variables such as executive interference control, spatial abilities and gender will also be evaluated.

Second, we will turn towards a younger age class and investigate how number-space interactions (instantiated by the SNARC effect) arise in young children that are  learning number symbols during kindergarten and the first year of primary school. To better understand how the representations related to abstract number symbols arise at this critical age we will use behavioral and electro-physiological methods. Taken together we hope that the combination of these distinct approaches will help us understand how number symbols are represented and why and how people differ in their numerical understandings.

For further information or questions, please do not hesitate to contact Carrie Georges