The hands that guide the thinking: Interactivity in mental arithmetic

Lisa GuthrieKingston University
Julia MayerMaastricht University
Frederic Vallee-TourangeauKingston University

Abstract

Whether it is in mining distal cultural influences or using more proximal artefacts, problem solving in the wild routinely scaffolds on the basis of interacting with resources outside the head. Individuals often gesture, point or use objects as an aid to solving quotidian arithmetic problems. Interactivity has been linked to better performance in problem solving, possibly due to a more efficient allocation of attentional resources and better distribution of cognitive load. Different levels of interactivity were examined with a series of mental arithmetic problems. The integration of artefacts, such as tokens or a pen, enabled individuals to explore the opportunities afforded by a dynamic modification of the problem. Mental arithmetic performance was more accurate and more efficient under these conditions. These findings underscore the importance of engineering task environments that support distributed problem representation and adequate levels of interactivity that creates a dynamically shifting topography of action affordances.

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