Age-related differences in fraction comparison: A process level approach

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Morgan, Michael
Rogers, Wendy A.
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This study is an investigation into the relationship between numeric cognition and aging. Specifically, older and younger adults engaged in an experimental protocol that allowed observation of number comparison accuracy and response time latencies associated with the SNARC effect, the distance effect, and number format. The experimental protocol featured a computerized magnitude comparison task wherein the participants were prompted to identify the larger of two numbers. Half of the trials featured whole numbers and half featured fractions. The number stimuli were consistently mapped such that half of all trials were at near distance (i.e., difference of 2) or far distance (i.e., difference of 4) and half of all trials had the larger numerosity on the left side of space and the other half with the larger numerosity on the right side of space. Older adults were significantly slower and less accurate than young adults. Both age groups were significantly slower and less accurate when comparing fractions as opposed to comparing whole numbers. The SNARC effect impaired accuracy in both age groups but did not significantly impact response times. The distance effect impacted both age cohorts in accuracy but differentially impacted older adult response times more than young adult response times. The results of this study support the model of numeric cognition as an automatic process when comparing whole numbers at a far distance and this process is not disrupted by the SNARC effect but is when comparing whole numbers at near distance. The results also indicate that fraction comparison is a controlled process even when the fraction stimuli are consistently mapped. Further investigation is necessary to understand the amount of cognitive resources necessitated by fraction processing and if training can improve fraction comparison.
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