Goldstone, R. L., Marghetis, T., Weitnauer, E., Ottmar, E. R., & Landy, D. (in press). Adapting perception, action, and technology for mathematical reasoning. Current Directions in Psychological Science.
Formal mathematical reasoning provides an illuminating test case for understanding how humans can think about things that they did not evolve to comprehend. People engage in algebraic reasoning by 1) creating new assemblies of perception and action routines that evolved originally for other purposes (reuse), 2) adapting those routines to better fit the formal requirements of mathematics (adaptation), and 3) designing cultural tools that mesh well with our perception-action routines to create cognitive systems capable of mathematical reasoning (invention). We describe evidence that a major component of proficiency at algebraic reasoning is Rigged Up Perception-Action Systems (RUPAS), via which originally demanding, strategically-controlled cognitive tasks are converted into learned, automatically executed perception and action routines. Informed by RUPAS, we have designed, implemented, and partially assessed a computer-based algebra tutoring system called Graspable Math with an aim toward training learners to develop perception-action routines that are intuitive, efficient, and mathematically valid.