Research Seminar

2-2:50pm Kelly Trezise "Characterizing students’ anxiety and cognitive functioning during math problem solving and learning"

Abstract: Students’ learning and educational performance requires cognitive functioning. We know that cognitive functioning can change: our typical model of cognitive change is across development.  But for a student, cognitive functioning interacts with their emotions (e.g. anxiety) everyday in the maths classroom. As a result, cognitive functioning and anxiety change throughout out the duration of a maths class. The effect of these changes on problem solving ability are well-known, but what are the implications for learning? And can we reduce the negative effect of high anxiety and impaired cognitive functioning? To explore these questions, I will present research that both examines and manipulates students’ cognitive functioning and anxiety during problem solving and learning in the maths classrooms. Findings show individual differences in math learning anxiety predict students’ later math strategy use. Results suggest that small changes in instruction may provide a way to help ameliorate the effects of impaired cognition.

2:50-3:00 Break

3:00-3:45 Reading group sessions:

Paper 1 (Jayne P.): Whyte & Anthony (2012) "Maths Anxiety: The Fear Factor in the Mathematics Classroom", New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, Volume 9, Issue 1, 6-15, 2012.

Paper 2 (Siân): Uesaka, Manalo, & Ichikawa (2010) "The Effects of Perception of Efficacy and Diagram

Construction Skills on Students’ Spontaneous Use of Diagrams When Solving Math Word Problems", in A.K. Goel, M. Jamnik, and N.H. Narayanan (Eds.): Diagrams 2010, LNAI 6170, pp. 197–211, 2010.

3:45-4:00 Break

4:00-5:00 Alexis D.J. Makin (Liverpool) "A simple formula that predicts the magnitude of the brain response to symmetry and its aesthetic appeal"


Insects, fish, birds and mammals like symmetry, possibly because it is a truthful indicator of health in potential mates. Humans also find symmetrical faces more attractive (Little, Jones, & DeBruine, 2011). Indeed, the mathematician Herman Weyl claimed that ‘beauty is bound up with symmetry’, and considered increasingly abstract examples (Weyl, 1953). In the early 20th century, the Gestalt school claimed that abstract symmetry is high in ‘perceptual goodness’. However, they did not quantify this concept precisely. To build on these early ideas, van der Helm and Leeuwenberg (1996) devised their ‘holographic weight of evidence model’, which quantified perceptual goodness as W = E/N, where E is evidence for regularity, and N is total information. We tested the holographic model with a series of

neuroimaging and psychophysical studies. W-load predicted discriminated speed and the magnitude of the neural response to different symmetries (Makin et al., 2016) . Next we measured preference for symmetry in the UK and Egypt. In both cultures, participants preferred the high W patterns that generated the largest brain response (Makin, Helmy, & Bertamini, 2018). We conclude that preference for abstract symmetry is closely related to W, but it is not a by-product of our innate attraction to symmetrical faces.

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