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Previous studies have suggested that numerical processing relates to mathematical performance, but it seems that such relationship is more evident for intentional than for automatic numerical processing. In the present study we assessed the relationship between the two types of numerical processing and specific mathematical abilities in a sample of 109 children in grades 1-6. Participants were tested in an ample range of mathematical tests and also performed both a numerical and a size comparison task. The results showed that numerical processing related to mathematical performance only when inhibitory control was involved in the comparison tasks. Concretely, we found that intentional numerical processing, as indexed by the numerical distance effect in the numerical comparison task, was related to mathematical reasoning skills only when the task-irrelevant dimension (the physical size) was incongruent; whereas automatic numerical processing, indexed by the congruency effect in the size comparison task, was related to mathematical calculation skills only when digits were separated by small distance. The observed double dissociation highlights the relevance of both intentional and automatic numerical processing in mathematical skills, but when inhibitory control is also involved.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Psychol

Publication Date





congruency effect, inhibitory control, mathematical abilities, numerical comparison task, numerical distance effect, primary school children, size comparison task