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Inhibitory control and decimal number comparison in school-aged children

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posted on 2017-11-20, 18:25 authored by Margot Roell, Arnaud Viarouge, Olivier Houdé, Grégoire Borst

School-aged children erroneously think that 1.45 is larger 1.5 because 45 is larger than 5. Using a negative priming paradigm, we investigated whether the ability to compare the magnitude of decimal numbers in the context in which the smallest number has the greatest number of digits after the decimal point (1.45 vs. 1.5) is rooted in part on the ability to inhibit the “greater the number of digits the greater its magnitude” misconception derived from a property of whole numbers. In Experiment 1, we found a typical negative priming effect with 7th graders requiring more time to compare decimal numbers in which the largest number has the greatest number of digits after the decimal point (1.65 vs. 1.5) after comparing decimal numbers in which the smallest number has the greatest number of digits after the decimal point (1.45 vs. 1.5) than after comparing decimal numbers with the same number of digits after the decimal point (1.5 vs. 1.6). In Experiment 2, we found a negative priming effect when decimal numbers preceded items in which 7th graders had to compare the length of two lines. Taken together our results suggest that the ability to compare decimal numbers in which the smallest number has the greatest number of digits is rooted in part on the ability to inhibit the “greater the number of digits the greater its magnitude” misconception and in part on the ability to inhibit the length of the decimal number per se.

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