Title: Perceptual Ratio Processing Predicts Fractions Skills
Legend: (Lay): College students were asked to decide which of two ratios were larger (examples in a-d) that were presented for 1.5 seconds. We show that people who were better at this perceptual task also performed better on four tasks involving symbolic fractions: comparing symbolic fractions (e.g., saying 2/3 is larger 4/9), placing fractions on a number line (where a small score is better), a pencil-and-paper test of fractions knowledge, and even algebra scores from the UW system entrance exam. These results suggest that perceptual ratio processing may be a foundational skill for understanding symbolic fractions, and in turn, even algebra skills. We are currently investigating the brain basis of this perceptual skill.
Citation: Matthews, P.M., Lewis, M.R. & Hubbard, E.M. (in press). Individual differences in nonsymbolic ratio processing predict symbolic math performance. Psychological Science.
Abstract: What basic capacities lay the foundation for advanced numerical cognition? Are there basic nonsymbolic abilities that support understanding more advanced numerical concepts like fractions? To date most theories have posited that previously identified core numerical systems like the approximate number system (ANS), are ill-suited for learning fraction concepts. However, recent research in developmental psychology and neuroscience has revealed a “ratio processing system” (RPS) sensitive to magnitudes of nonsymbolic ratios that may be ideally suited for grounding fractions concepts. We provide evidence for this hypothesis by showing that individual differences in RPS acuity predict performance on four measures of mathematical competence, including a university algebra entrance exam. We suggest that the nonsymbolic RPS may support symbolic fraction understanding much like the ANS supports whole number concepts. Thus, even abstract mathematical concepts like fractions may be grounded as much in basic nonsymbolic processing abilities as they are in higher-order logic and language.
About the Lab: The Educational Neuroscience Lab explores questions at the intersection of education and neuroscience, in the emerging field of Educational Neuroscience. Our research examines the neural underpinnings of cognitive processes that are relevant for education, and the role of educational experiences and enculturation as primary drivers of brain plasticity to create the neural circuits that underlie human specific abilities. Our research combines the latest technological advances in understanding the human brain as a “learning organ” with insights from cognitive psychology and education to help build the emerging field of educational neuroscience.