23-07-2020 | Original Article
No power: exponential expressions are not processed automatically as such
Gepubliceerd in: Psychological Research | Uitgave 5/2021Log in om toegang te krijgen
Little is known about the mental representation of exponential expressions. The present study examined the automatic processing of exponential expressions under the framework of multi-digit numbers, specifically asking which component of the expression (i.e., the base/power) is more salient during this type of processing. In a series of three experiments, participants performed a physical size comparison task. They were presented with pairs of exponential expressions that appeared in frames that differed in their physical sizes. Participants were instructed to ignore the stimuli within the frames and choose the larger frame. In all experiments, the pairs of exponential expressions varied in the numerical values of their base and/or power component. We manipulated the compatibility between the base and the power components, as well as their physical sizes to create a standard versus nonstandard syntax of exponential expressions. Experiments 1 and 3 demonstrate that the physically larger component drives the size congruity effect, which is typically the base but was manipulated here in some cases to be the power. Moreover, Experiments 2 and 3 revealed similar patterns, even when manipulating the compatibility between base and power components. Our findings support componential processing of exponents by demonstrating that participants were drawn to the physically larger component, even though in exponential expressions, the power, which is physically smaller, has the greater mathematical contribution. Thus, revealing that the syntactic structure of an exponential expression is not processed automatically. We discuss these results with regard to multi-digit numbers research.