Developmental Science

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Volume 21 Issue 2 (March 2018), Pages

Developmental changes in the whole number bias

Abstract

Many students’ knowledge of fractions is adversely affected by whole number bias, the tendency to focus on the separate whole number components (numerator and denominator) of a fraction rather than on the fraction's magnitude (ratio of numerator to denominator). Although whole number bias appears early in the fraction learning process and under speeded conditions persists into adulthood, even among mathematicians, little is known about its development. Performance with equivalent fractions indicated that between fourth and eighth grade, whole number bias decreased, and reliance on fraction magnitudes increased. These trends were present on both fraction magnitude comparison and number line estimation. However, analyses of individual children's performance indicated that a substantial minority of fourth graders did not show whole number bias and that a substantial minority of eighth graders did show it. Implications of the findings for development of understanding of fraction equivalence and for theories of numerical development are discussed.

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