Landy, D., & Goldstone, R. L. (2005). Relational reasoning is in the eyes of the beholder: How global perceptual groups aid and impair algebraic evaluations.Proceedings of the Twenty-seventh Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. (pp. 2509)
Relational reasoning—reasoning that depends on the interactions of multiple elements, rather than on the intrinsic properties of the elements—is both ubiquitous and challenging. For example, children find it difficult to respond to relational commonalities when object-based similarities are present (Gentner & Rattermann, 1991). Since overt symbol systems such as algebra are external constructs, their terms can contain perceptual regularities. Models of symbolic reasoning, however, typically ignore perceptual regularities (Anderson, in press). It is reasonable to wonder whether people make use of available domaingeneral grouping processes when parsing mathematical structures.
The purpose of the experiments described here is to evaluate whether algebraic grouping is sensitive to visual grouping. If processing is strictly symbolic, then the manipulation of perceptual regularities should not affect judgments; however, if people use visual grouping to help them parse expressions, then they should make more errors in cases where the perceptual grouping gives an incorrect answer, and be more accurate when visual grouping supports the standard order of operations.