Structural approaches to the symbol grounding problem PhD

Mathematics Education Centre
Entry requirements:
3 years
not available
Reference number:
Start date:
01 October 2018
Is funding available?
UK/EU fees:
International fees:
Application deadline:
16 February 2018



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Project detail

How do mathematical symbols, such as Arabic numerals or number words, acquire their meaning? The dominant account in the numerical cognition literature suggests that numerical symbols gain meaning by being mapped onto nonsymbolic magnitude representations generated by a so-called ‘approximate number system’. For instance, the symbol ‘7’ is said to be associated with the intuitive sense you get when you see an array of seven objects. However, a number of recent research findings call into question this proposal, and alternative approaches are now being actively developed. The goal of this project is to investigate how structural features of number notations – such as ordinality or place value – support the development of numerical meaning. The idea behind such approaches is that the symbol ‘7’ gains its meaning by its associations with other symbols, such as ‘6’, ‘8’ and ‘17’. A number of different research approaches may be used to tackle this question. For example, recent work in the Mathematical Cognition Group at Loughborough has used artificial symbol learning paradigms to investigate the role of ordinality and cardinality in number knowledge development. Some other recent projects on this topic in our group have involved working with young children encountering symbolic numbers for the first time. The exact approach adopted during this project will depend on the interests of the successful applicant.


Primary supervisor: Matthew Inglis

Secondary supervisor: Dr Camilla Gilmore

Find out more

For further project details email Matthew Inglis or register your interest and ask us a question.

General information about the Mathematics Education Centre can be found online.

Entry Requirements

Applicants should have, or expect to achieve, at least a 2:1 Honours degree (or equivalent) in psychology, education or a related subject. A relevant Master’s degree and/or experience in psychology, mathematics education or research methods will be an advantage.

Applicants must meet the minimum English Language requirements, details available on the website.

Fees and funding


Tuition fees cover the cost of your teaching, assessment and operating University facilities such as the library, IT equipment and other support services. University fees and charges can be paid in advance and there are several methods of payment, including online payments and payment by instalment. Special arrangements are made for payments by part-time students.

The 3-year studentship provides a tax-free stipend of £14,553 (2017 rate) per annum (in line with the standard research council rates) for the duration of the studentship plus tuition fees at the UK/EU rate.  International (non-EU) students may apply however the total value of the studentship will be used towards the cost of the International tuition fee in the first instance.

How to apply

All applications should be made online. Under programme name, select ‘Mathematics’.

Please quote reference number: MI/MEC/2018

Application details

Reference number:  MI/MEC/2018
Start date: 01 October 2018
Application deadline: 16 February 2018