Task-Related Factors that Influence the Spontaneous Use of Diagrams in Math Word Problems

Yuri Uesaka*, Emmanuel Manalo

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)


    Diagrams are effective tools for problem solving. However, previous findings indicate that students generally do not use diagrams spontaneously. This study examined task-related factors that may influence the spontaneity of diagram use. Experiment 1 compared two possible explanations: the first, that the length-relatedness of the story context of the problem (i.e. whether it involves the measurement of length) determines the likelihood of diagram use; and the second, that the cognitive cost of transforming the situation described in the word problem to an abstract diagrammatic representation is the more important factor. Four math word problems, differing in their story context and structure, were administered to eighth-grade Japanese students (n=125) to solve. The results provide support for the cognitive transformation cost explanation. The results of experiment 2, in which the problems were administered to students in both Japan (n=291) and New Zealand (n=323), confirm this finding.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)251-260
    Number of pages10
    JournalApplied Cognitive Psychology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2012 Mar


    • Math Word Problems
    • Spontaneous Use of Diagrams
    • Task-related Factors

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
    • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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