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Approximate number sense correlates with math performance in gifted adolescents.

ABSTRACT

Nonhuman animals, human infants, and human adults all share an Approximate Number System (ANS) that allows them to imprecisely represent number without counting. Among humans, people differ in the precision of their ANS representations, and these individual differences have been shown to correlate with symbolic mathematics performance in both children and adults. For example, children with specific math impairment (dyscalculia) have notably poor ANS precision. However, it remains unknown whether ANS precision contributes to individual differences only in populations of people with lower or average mathematical abilities, or whether this link also is present in people who excel in math. Here we tested non-symbolic numerical approximation in 13- to 16-year old gifted children enrolled in a program for talented adolescents (the Center for Talented Youth). We found that in this high achieving population, ANS precision significantly correlated with performance on the symbolic math portion of two common standardized tests (SAT and ACT) that typically are administered to much older students. This relationship was robust even when controlling for age, verbal performance, and reaction times in the approximate number task. These results suggest that the Approximate Number System is linked to symbolic math performance even at the top levels of math performance.