Formal notations are diagrams: Evidence from a production task

Landy, D., & Goldstone, R. L. (2007).  Formal notations are diagrams: Evidence from a production task. Memory & Cognition, 35, 2033-2040

Although a general sense of the magnitude, quantity, or numerosity of objects is common both in untrained people and in animals, the abilities to deal exactly with large quantities and to reason precisely in complex but well-specified situations—to behave formally, that is—are skills unique to people trained in symbolic notations. These symbolic notations employ typically complex, hierarchically embedded structures, which all extant analyses assume are constructed by concatenative, rule-based processes. The primary goal of this article is to establish, using behavioral measures on naturalistic tasks, that the some of the same cognitive resources involved in representing spatial relations and proximities are also involved in representing symbolic notations: in short, formal notations are a kind of diagram. We examine self-generated productions in the domains of handwritten arithmetic expressions and typewritten statements in a formal logic. In both tasks, we find substantial evidence for spatial representational schemes even in these highly symbolic domains.

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