Memory & Cognition

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 462–477 | Cite as

The representations of the arithmetic operations include functional relationships



Current theories of mathematical problem solving propose that people select a mathematical operation as the solution to a problem on the basis of a structure mapping between their problem representation and the representation of the mathematical operations. The structure-mapping hypothesis requires that the problem and the mathematical representations contain analogous relations. Past research has demonstrated that the problem representation consists of functional relationships, orprinciples. The present study tested whether people represent analogous principles for each arithmetic operation (i.e., addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). For each operation, college (Experiments 1 and 2) and 8th grade (Experiment 2) participants were asked to rate the degree to which a set of completed problems was a good attempt at the operation. The pattern of presented answers either violated one of four principles or did not violate any principles. The distance of the presented answers from the correct answers was independently manipulated. Consistent with the hypothesis that people represent the principles, (1) violations of the principles were rated as poorer attempts at the operation, (2) operations that are learned first (e.g., addition) had more extensive principle representations than did operations learned later (multiplication), and (3) principles that are more frequently in evidence developed more quickly. In Experiment 3, college participants rated the degree to which statements were indicative of each operation. The statements were either consistent or inconsistent with one of two principles. The participants’ ratings showed that operations with longer developmental histories had strong principle representations. The implications for a structure-mapping approach to mathematical problem solving are discussed.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • James A. Dixon
    • 1
  • Julie K. Deets
    • 2
  • Ashley Bangert
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCollege of William and MaryWilliamsburg
  2. 2.Trinity UniversitySan Antonio

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