NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ1057436
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2014-Sep
Pages: 15
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 47
ISSN: ISSN-0278-7393
Abstract Numeric Relations and the Visual Structure of Algebra
Landy, David; Brookes, David; Smout, Ryan
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, v40 n5 p1404-1418 Sep 2014
Formal algebras are among the most powerful and general mechanisms for expressing quantitative relational statements; yet, even university engineering students, who are relatively proficient with algebraic manipulation, struggle with and often fail to correctly deploy basic aspects of algebraic notation (Clement, 1982). In the cognitive tradition, it has often been assumed that skilled users of these formalisms treat situations in terms of semantic properties encoded in an abstract syntax that governs the use of notation without particular regard to the details of the physical structure of the equation itself (Anderson, 2005; Hegarty, Mayer, & Monk, 1995). We explore how the notational structure of verbal descriptions or algebraic equations (e.g., the spatial proximity of certain words or the visual alignment of numbers and symbols in an equation) plays a role in the process of interpreting or constructing symbolic equations. We propose in particular that construction processes involve an alignment of notational structures across representation systems, biasing reasoners toward the selection of formal notations that maintain the visuospatial structure of source representations. For example, in the statement "There are 5 elephants for every 3 rhinoceroses," the spatial proximity of 5 and "elephants" and 3 and "rhinoceroses" will bias reasoners to write the incorrect expression 5E = 3R, because that expression maintains the spatial relationships encoded in the source representation. In 3 experiments, participants constructed equations with given structure, based on story problems with a variety of phrasings. We demonstrate how the notational alignment approach accounts naturally for a variety of previously reported phenomena in equation construction and successfully predicts error patterns that are not accounted for by prior explanations, such as the left to right transcription heuristic.
American Psychological Association. Journals Department, 750 First Street NE, Washington, DC 20002. Tel: 800-374-2721; Tel: 202-336-5510; Fax: 202-336-5502; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Institute of Education Sciences (ED)
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Illinois; Virginia
IES Funded: Yes
Grant or Contract Numbers: R305H050116; R305A110060