Are content effects out of sight? An eye-tracking study of arithmetic problem solving

AbstractEvidence suggests that general, non-mathematical knowledge about the entities described in an arithmetic word problem may interfere with its encoding. We used behavioral and eye-tracking measures to investigate how the use of specific quantities may foster a cardinal representation of the numbers mentioned in a problem, whereas other quantities may favor an ordinal representation instead. We asked 50 pre-service teachers to complete a solution validity assessment task. We compared participants’ gaze patterns on isomorphic problems to gather insights into their encoded representations. On problems featuring cardinal quantities, we found that specific sentences describing elements relevant in a cardinal understanding of the problems but irrelevant otherwise were looked at longer and were the focus of a higher number of backward eye movements. Additionally, an increase in pupil dilation on correctly solved cardinal problems supported the idea that participants need to engage in a recoding process when facing semantic incongruence.

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