This NIH funded project will investigate a hypothesis which integrates previously unrelated findings from neuroscience, developmental psychology and education. The hypothesis contends that a basic sensitivity to non-symbolic fractions (such as the relative lengths of two lines or the relative areas of two figures) is present even before children begin formal instruction. The existence of these primitive non-symbolic fraction processing abilities suggests that they might serve as a foundation for understanding the magnitudes of symbolic fractions. If substantiated,this hypothesis can inform interventions designed to improve fraction learning and may contribute to the detection and treatment of math learning difficulties.

We will test this hypothesis among 5-year old and 10-year old children using matching and comparison tasks that measure children’s abilities to perceive the magnitudes of non-symbolic fractions. We will alos develop a training program that pairs non-symbolic fractions with symbolic fractions to teach children about the magnitudes of symbolic fractions.

Project findings will have important implications for our understanding of number processing and for designing interventions that are optimal for promoting fraction learning. If perceptual sensitivity to non-symbolic fractions can provide a foundation for the acquisition of symbolic fraction knowledge, then instruction should attempt to exploit these primitive abilities. If deficits in these non-symbolic abilities contribute to math learning difficulties, then screening should include measures of non-symbolic abilities and interventions should be designed to strengthen these abilities.