How do people choose among rational number notations

Published on Dec 1, 2020in Cognitive Psychology3.029
· DOI :10.1016/J.COGPSYCH.2020.101333
Jing Tian5
Estimated H-index: 5
(TU: Temple University),
David W. Braithwaite7
Estimated H-index: 7
(FSU: Florida State University),
Robert S. Siegler100
Estimated H-index: 100
(Columbia University)
Abstract Three rational number notations -- fractions, decimals, and percentages -- have existed in their modern forms for over 300 years, suggesting that each notation serves a distinct function. However, it is unclear what these functions are and how people choose which notation to use in a given situation. In the present article, we propose quantification process theory to account for people’s preferences among fractions, decimals, and percentages. According to this theory, the preferred notation for representing a ratio corresponding to a given situation depends on the processes used to quantify the ratio or its components. Quantification process theory predicts that if exact enumeration is used to generate a ratio, fractions will be preferred to decimals and percentages; in contrast, if estimation is used to generate the ratio, decimals and percentages will be preferred to fractions. Moreover, percentages will be preferred over decimals for representing ratios when approximation to the nearest percent is sufficiently precise, due to the lesser processing demands of using percentages. Experiments 1, 2, and 3 yielded empirical evidence regarding preferences that were consistent with quantification process theory. Experiment 4 indicated that the accuracy with which participants identified the numerical values of ratios when they used different notations generally paralleled their preferences. Educational implications of the findings are discussed.
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