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Cognitive styles and solution strategies in arithmetic (CSARITH)

Project leader:Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Psych. Dr. Anja Ischebeck

The present project aims to investigate the influence of an individual's cognitive style on problem solving. Most problems in daily life are complex and can often be solved in more than one way. However, as individuals differ with regard to their potentials, habits and preferences, efforts to make problem solving more efficient will have to take interindividual differences into account. In the last decade, our knowledge about the function of the brain has advanced greatly, but most research has, so far, focused mainly on the commonalities in information processing, rather than on the causes and consequences of individual differences. We propose a series of brain imaging (fMRI/EEG) studies to shed light on the neural basis of individual's cognitive styles and preferred solution strategies.

Arithmetic is an ideal domain to investigate complex problem solving, because it allows the systematic creation of comparatively homogeneous problems with different levels of difficulty. Arithmetic problems can often be solved correctly in more than one way. For example, when asked to calculate 9 x 37, one might add the results of the intermediate products 9 x 30 and 9 x 7 or solve this problem by first putting a '0' after 37 (multiplying with 10) and then subtracting 37 from the result. Although skilled adults are usually aware of both solution strategies, they differ with regard to how much they habitually make use of them. Furthermore, individuals might also differ with regard to the degree to which they employ different cognitive domains in solving a complex problem. For example, in mental addition, some individuals (visualizers) report visualizing the numbers that are to be added, while others (verbalizers) claim to solve the problem purely verbally without visualizing anything.

In the present project, we have two general aims. Our first aim is to investigate the neurobiological basis of interindividual differences in cognitive styles and solution strategies while solving complex problems in arithmetic. Our second aim is to investigate whether and how different ways to solve a problem engange different brain areas to understand the neural basis of how cognitive style might lead to certain problem-solving preferences and strategies. We also hope to exploit the investigation of interindividual differences to investigate the domain-specificity of the brain areas subserving number processing and arithmetic. For example, it is unclear, whether brain areas with an assumed affinity to the verbal domain, such as the left angular gyrus, will show a systematic modulation depending on the degree of verbalization involved in a particular solution strategy or being due to a verbal cognitive style. If no such systematic modulation is observed, it could be concluded that the brain areas involved in arithmetic processing are domain-general rather than domain-specific.

Project Leader

Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Psych. Dr.

Anja Ischebeck

Universitätsplatz 2/III
8010 Graz, Austria

Phone:+43 (0)316 380 - 5118
Fax:+43 (0)316 380 - 9806

Funding

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