Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 80, Issue 5, pp 1057–1063 | Cite as

Numerical distance effect size is a poor metric of approximate number system acuity

  • Dana Chesney
Short Report


Individual differences in the ability to compare and evaluate nonsymbolic numerical magnitudes—approximate number system (ANS) acuity—are emerging as an important predictor in many research areas. Unfortunately, recent empirical studies have called into question whether a historically common ANS-acuity metric—the size of the numerical distance effect (NDE size)—is an effective measure of ANS acuity. NDE size has been shown to frequently yield divergent results from other ANS-acuity metrics. Given these concerns and the measure’s past popularity, it behooves us to question whether the use of NDE size as an ANS-acuity metric is theoretically supported. This study seeks to address this gap in the literature by using modeling to test the basic assumption underpinning use of NDE size as an ANS-acuity metric: that larger NDE size indicates poorer ANS acuity. This assumption did not hold up under test. Results demonstrate that the theoretically ideal relationship between NDE size and ANS acuity is not linear, but rather resembles an inverted J-shaped distribution, with the inflection points varying based on precise NDE task methodology. Thus, depending on specific methodology and the distribution of ANS acuity in the tested population, positive, negative, or null correlations between NDE size and ANS acuity could be predicted. Moreover, peak NDE sizes would be found for near-average ANS acuities on common NDE tasks. This indicates that NDE size has limited and inconsistent utility as an ANS-acuity metric. Past results should be interpreted on a case-by-case basis, considering both specifics of the NDE task and expected ANS acuity of the sampled population.


Numerical distance effect Estimation Approximate number system Acuity Numerical magnitudes 


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologySt. John’s UniversityJamaicaUSA

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