Resisting the urge to calculate: The relation between inhibitory control and perceptual cues in arithmetic performance

Avery Harrison CLOSSER, Yun-Chen CHAN, Erin OTTMAR

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

Abstract

Subtle visual manipulations to the presentation of mathematical notation influence the way that students perceive and solve problems. While there is a consistent impact of perceptual cues on students’ problem-solving, other cognitive skills such as inhibitory control may interact with perceptual cues to affect students’ arithmetic problem-solving performance. We present an online experiment in which college students completed a version of the Stroop task followed by arithmetic problems in which the spacing between numbers and operators was either congruent (e.g., 2 + 3×4) or incongruent (e.g., 2+3 × 4) to the order of precedence. We found that students were comparably accurate between problem types but might have spent longer responding to problems with congruent than incongruent spacing. There was no main effect of inhibitory control on students’ performance on these problems. However, an exploratory analysis on a combined performance measure of accuracy and response time revealed an interaction between problem type and inhibitory control. Students with higher inhibitory control performed better on congruent versus incongruent problems, whereas students with lower inhibitory control performed worse on congruent versus incongruent problems. Together, these results suggest that the relation between inhibitory control and arithmetic performance may not be straightforward. Furthermore, this work advances perceptual learning theory and contributes new findings on the contexts in which perceptual cues, such as spacing, influence arithmetic performance. Copyright © 2023 Experimental Psychology Society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2690-2703
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Volume76
Issue number12
Early online dateJan 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

Citation

Closser, A. H., Chan, J. Y.-C., & Ottmar, E. (2023). Resisting the urge to calculate: The relation between inhibitory control and perceptual cues in arithmetic performance. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 76(12), 2690-2703. https://doi.org/10.1177/17470218231156125

Keywords

  • Inhibitory control
  • Mathematical cognition
  • Perceptual learning
  • Spatial proximity

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