State and Trait Effects on Individual Differences in Children’s Mathematical Development

Drew H. Bailey, Tyler W. Watts, Andrew K. Littlefield, David C. Geary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Substantial longitudinal relations between children’s early mathematics achievement and their much later mathematics achievement are firmly established. These findings are seemingly at odds with studies showing that early educational interventions have diminishing effects on children’s mathematics achievement across time. We hypothesized that individual differences in children’s later mathematical knowledge are more an indicator of stable, underlying characteristics related to mathematics learning throughout development than of direct effects of early mathematical competency on later mathematical competency. We tested this hypothesis in two longitudinal data sets, by simultaneously modeling effects of latent traits (stable characteristics that influence learning across time) and states (e.g., prior knowledge) on children’s mathematics achievement over time. Latent trait effects on children’s mathematical development were substantially larger than state effects. Approximately 60% of the variance in trait mathematics achievement was accounted for by commonly used control variables, such as working memory, but residual trait effects remained larger than state effects. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2017-2026
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 20 2014


  • cognitive development
  • education
  • intelligence
  • mathematics achievement
  • state-trait models


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