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The Precision of Symbolic Numerical Representation in Verbal Format Has an Indirect Effect on Math Performance in First Grade

Numerical information can be represented in three formats: two symbolic (visual (digits) and verbal (number words)) and one nonsymbolic (analog) format. Studies have shown that the precision of symbolic numerical representation is associated with math performance. The precision of symbolic representation is mostly discussed as the precision of representation in a visual format, whereas the precision of representation in verbal format and its relation with math performance is less studied. The current study examines the precision of symbolic numerical representation in visual and verbal formats and the relationship between such precision and math performance when controlling for prior math performance, nonsymbolic numerical representation, phonological processing, reading skills and working memory. We used data from 367 Russian first graders (mean age, 7.6 years; 53% girls). To assess the precision of symbolic numerical representation, magnitude comparison tasks with digits and number words were used. It was found that the precision of symbolic representation in verbal format did not have a direct effect on math performance, but has an indirect effect via visual format of symbolic representation, even when controlling for prior math performance and other cognitive abilities.