2018-07-17Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.18452/19616
The Developmental Trajectory of the Operational Momentum Effect
Mental calculation is thought to be tightly related to visuospatial abilities. One of the strongest evidence for this link is the widely replicated operational momentum (OM) effect: the tendency to overestimate the result of additions and to underestimate the result of subtractions. Although the OM effect has been found in both infants and adults, no study has directly investigated its developmental trajectory until now. However, to fully understand the cognitive mechanisms lying at the core of the OM effect it is important to investigate its developmental dynamics. In the present study, we investigated the development of the OM effect in a group of 162 children from 8 to 12 years old. Participants had to select among five response alternatives the correct result of approximate addition and subtraction problems. Response alternatives were simultaneously presented on the screen at different locations. While no effect was observed for the youngest age group, children aged 9 and older showed a clear OM effect. Interestingly, the OM effect monotonically increased with age. The increase of the OM effect was accompanied by an increase in overall accuracy. That is, while younger children made more and non-systematic errors, older children made less but systematic errors. This monotonous increase of the OM effect with age is not predicted by the compression account (i.e., linear calculation performed on a compressed code). The attentional shift account, however, provides a possible explanation of these results based on the functional relationship between visuospatial attention and mental calculation and on the influence of formal schooling. We propose that the acquisition of arithmetical skills could reinforce the systematic reliance on the spatial mental number line and attentional mechanisms that control the displacement along this metric. Our results provide a step in the understanding of the mechanisms underlying approximate calculation and an important empirical constraint for current accounts on the origin of the OM effect.
This article was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Open Access Publication Fund of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.