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Practice, problem size, and working memory resource use in mental arithmetic: Group and individual differences

Loel Nicholas Tronsky, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Abstract

A well documented empirical effect in the mental arithmetic literature is the problem size effect, an effect characterized by increased solution latencies and error rates in response to problems with larger sums or products. Group investigations of the problem size effect have revealed that it is reduced, but not eradicated, with practice. Group investigations have also found that working memory resources are used during mental arithmetic, and often the problem size effect is larger under conditions of working memory load. The present research examined problem size and working memory effects in a group of college participants before and after 4 hours of arithmetic practice and in a group of “expert” calculators. Traditional analyses showed group problem size and working memory effects at pre-practice, post-practice, and for the expert group, although the effects were reduced at post-practice and for the expert group. Individual analyses indicated, however, that many individuals at post-practice and in the expert group had extremely small, near zero problem size and working memory effects. The major conclusions of this study were that the problem size effect is largely explained by practice/frequency of problem presentation, and group working memory and problem size effects in mental arithmetic do not necessarily mirror individual effects. ^

Subject Area

Education, Mathematics|Education, Educational Psychology|Psychology, Cognitive

Recommended Citation

Loel Nicholas Tronsky, "Practice, problem size, and working memory resource use in mental arithmetic: Group and individual differences" (January 1, 2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. Paper AAI3012187.
http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI3012187

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