Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Spoken Numbers versus Arabic Numerals: Differential Effects on Adults' Multiplication and Addition

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Spoken Numbers versus Arabic Numerals: Differential Effects on Adults' Multiplication and Addition

Article excerpt

J.-A. LeFevre, Q. Lei, B. L. Smith-Chant, and D. B. Mullins (2001) examined effects of auditory versus Arabic visual presentation formats on performance of simple multiplication. They observed a smaller problem-size effect (response time [RT] increases with numerical size) with auditory stimuli compared with Arabic stimuli. If this arises during problem encoding, as opposed to during subsequent calculation processes, the authors would expect comparable Format × Problem Size interactions for both multiplication and addition. For multiplication, the authors replicated the finding of a smaller problem-size effect for auditory stimuli than for Arabic stimuli, but found the opposite pattern for addition whereby the problem-size effect was larger with auditory stimuli than with Arabic stimuli. Decomposition of mean RT into its ex-Gaussian components, μ and τ, demonstrated that the triple interaction arose entirely in connection with τ. This suggests that the effects of auditory versus Arabic format on RT substantially reflected format-related shifts in the use of procedural strategies.

Keywords: simple arithmetic, strategy choice, number format, response time

LeFevre, Lei, Smith-Chant, and Mullins (2001) compared English and Chinese speakers' performance on simple multiplication problems (e.g., 2 × 3, 9 × 6) presented in auditory and Arabic format. Of particular interest here was the observation that for the English-speaking group, the problem-size effect (PSE) was 25% larger with Arabic presentation format than with auditory presentation format (see LeFevre et al., 2001, Table 1, p. 280). The PSE is the ubiquitous finding that response time (RT) tends to be slower for large problems (e.g., 9 × 6) relative to small problems (e.g., 2 × 3; see Zbrodoff & Logan, 2005, for a review of the PSE). LeFevre et al.'s observation of a smaller PSE for auditory verbal format ("four times eight") compared with Arabic format (4 × 8) is interesting because it contrasts with previous evidence of a larger PSE in latencies for written verbal format (four times eight) compared with Arabic (4 × 8; e.g., Campbell, 1994; Noël, Fias, & Brysbaert, 1997). The source of the Format × Problem Size interactions with written number words versus Arabic format has been controversial. Some researchers have argued that the effect arises at encoding (McCloskey, Macaruso, & Whetstone, 1992; Noël et al., 1997), whereas others have argued that it occurs during calculation (Campbell, 1994; Campbell & Epp, 2005). Similarly, we consider whether the Format × Problem Size pattern observed by LeFevre et al. with auditory and Arabic formats arises during encoding or at another stage of processing.

If LeFevre et al.'s (2001) Format × Problem Size pattern was the result of encoding differences for auditory and Arabic operands, then we would expect the same form of the interaction to be present in both simple multiplication and addition. Fact retrieval for both operations is governed by the same representational principles (Campbell, Fuchs-Lacelle, & Phenix, 2006), and it is a common assumption that both operands are converted to an internal quantity representation before solution processes proceed (Butterworth, Zorzi, Girelli, & Jonckheere, 2001; Campbell, 1994; Verguts & Fias, 2005). Thus, multiplication and addition are expected to engage similar encoding processes. Therefore, if we find different forms of the Format × Problem Size interaction for multiplication and addition, this would suggest that format affects operation-specific processes that occur after encoding.



Seventy-four University of Saskatchewan students (39 men and 35 women) between the ages of 17 and 41 years (M = 24) received $5 for participation in the experiment. All participants reported normal or corrected-to-normal vision.

Stimuli and Apparatus

Participants wore headphones, and a lapel microphone was used to control a software clock accurate to ±1 ms. …

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