Dealing with Big Numbers

Representation and Understanding of Magnitudes Outside of Human Experience

Ilyse Resnick, Nora S. Newcombe, Thomas F. Shipley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


Being able to estimate quantity is important in everyday life and for success in the STEM disciplines. However, people have difficulty reasoning about magnitudes outside of human perception (e.g., nanoseconds, geologic time). This study examines patterns of estimation errors across temporal and spatial magnitudes at large scales. We evaluated the effectiveness of hierarchical alignment in improving estimations, and transfer across dimensions. The activity was successful in increasing accuracy for temporal and spatial magnitudes, and learning transferred to the estimation of numeric magnitudes associated with events and objects. However, there were also a number of informative differences in performance on temporal, spatial, and numeric magnitude measures, suggesting that participants possess different categorical information for these scales. Educational implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1020-1041
Number of pages22
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


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