Hansen, Sonja Maria (2016). The potential of symbolic approximation. Disentangling the effects of approximation vs. calculation demands in nonsymbolic and symbolic representations. PhD thesis, Universität zu Köln.

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Mathematical skills that we acquire during formal education mostly entail exact numerical processing. Besides this specifically human faculty, an additional system exists to represent and manipulate quantities in an approximate manner. We share this innate approximate number system (ANS) with other nonhuman animals and are able to use it to process large numerosities long before we can master the formal algorithms taught in school. Dehaene´s (1992) Triple Code Model (TCM) states that also after the onset of formal education, approximate processing is carried out in this analogue magnitude code no matter if the original problem was presented nonsymbolically or symbolically. Despite the wide acceptance of the model, most research only uses nonsymbolic tasks to assess ANS acuity. Due to this silent assumption that genuine approximation can only be tested with nonsymbolic presentations, up to now important implications in research domains of high practical relevance remain unclear, and existing potential is not fully exploited. For instance, it has been found that nonsymbolic approximation can predict math achievement one year later (Gilmore, McCarthy, & Spelke, 2010), that it is robust against the detrimental influence of learners´ socioeconomic status (SES), and that it is suited to foster performance in exact arithmetic in the short-term (Hyde, Khanum, & Spelke, 2014). We provided evidence that symbolic approximation might be equally and in some cases even better suited to generate predictions and foster more formal math skills independently of SES. In two longitudinal studies, we realized exact and approximate arithmetic tasks in both a nonsymbolic and a symbolic format. With first graders, we demonstrated that performance in symbolic approximation at the beginning of term was the only measure consistently not varying according to children´s SES, and among both approximate tasks it was the better predictor for math achievement at the end of first grade. In part, the strong connection seems to come about from mediation through ordinal skills. In two further experiments, we tested the suitability of both approximation formats to induce an arithmetic principle in elementary school children. We found that symbolic approximation was equally effective in making children exploit the additive law of commutativity in a subsequent formal task as a direct instruction. Nonsymbolic approximation on the other hand had no beneficial effect. The positive influence of the symbolic approximate induction was strongest in children just starting school and decreased with age. However, even third graders still profited from the induction. The results show that also symbolic problems can be processed as genuine approximation, but that beyond that they have their own specific value with regard to didactic-educational concerns. Our findings furthermore demonstrate that the two often con-founded factors ꞌformatꞌ and ꞌdemanded accuracyꞌ cannot be disentangled easily in first graders numerical understanding, but that children´s SES also influences existing interrelations between the different abilities tested here.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD thesis)
Hansen, Sonja Mariasonja.hansen@gmx.netUNSPECIFIED
URN: urn:nbn:de:hbz:38-70602
Subjects: Psychology
Uncontrolled Keywords:
ANS; approximate arithmetic; SES; commutativity; procedural knowledge; conceptual knowledgeEnglish
Faculty: Faculty of Human Sciences
Divisions: Faculty of Human Sciences > Department Psychologie
Language: English
Date: 20 June 2016
Date of oral exam: 21 October 2016
NameAcademic Title
Haider, HildeProf. Dr.
Gaschler, RobertProf. Dr.
Refereed: Yes
URI: http://kups.ub.uni-koeln.de/id/eprint/7074


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