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When masters of abstraction run into a concrete wall: Experts failing arithmetic word problems

Abstract : Can our knowledge about apples, cars, or smurfs hinder our ability to solve mathematical problems involving these entities? We argue that such daily-life knowledge interferes with arithmetic word problem solving, to the extent that experts can be led to failure in problems involving trivial mathematical notions. We created problems evoking different aspects of our non-mathematical, general knowledge. They were solvable by one single subtraction involving small quantities, such as 14 – 2 = 12. A first experiment studied how university-educated adults dealt with seemingly simple arithmetic problems evoking knowledge that was either congruent or incongruent with the problems’ solving procedure. Results showed that in the latter case, the proportion of participants incorrectly deeming the problems “unsolvable” increased significantly, as did response times for correct answers. A second experiment showed that expert mathematicians were also subject to this bias. These results demonstrate that irrelevant non-mathematical knowledge interferes with the identification of basic, single-step solutions to arithmetic word problems, even among experts who have supposedly mastered abstract, context-independent reasoning.
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Contributeur : Lead - Université de Bourgogne <>
Soumis le : mardi 20 août 2019 - 12:58:27
Dernière modification le : vendredi 27 mars 2020 - 02:50:51

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Hippolyte Gros, Emmanuel Sander, Jean-Pierre Thibaut. When masters of abstraction run into a concrete wall: Experts failing arithmetic word problems. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, Psychonomic Society, 2019, 26 (5), pp.1738-1746. ⟨10.3758/s13423-019-01628-3⟩. ⟨hal-02268101⟩



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