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This study investigates why children who are good at one math skill also perform well on other math tasks and seeks a solution by comparing two influential theories of general intelligence. The g-factor theory (g for 'general intelligence') implies a general math ability that steers all math-related development. In contrast, mutualism theory states that different math skills co-develop, positively influencing each others growth. We examined this with a large longitudinal data set (N≈12.000) that tracked the development of basic (counting ↔ addition) and more advanced (multiplication ↔ division) math skills for a full school year. We used bivariate latent change score models to investigate whether g-factor or mutualism theory provides a better explanation of their co-development. We found that basic and more advanced math skills become more strongly related over time and that co-development is mutually beneficial. Both results support mutualism theory, a dynamic network perspective of cognitive development, where, in this case, growth in a particular math domain positively influences that of other math skills. Our results perhaps reveal the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the intricacies of co-developing math abilities. We discuss the implications of mutualism theory for understanding the dynamics of learning mathematics.
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