The Relationship Between Problem Size and Fixation Patterns During Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division


  • Evan T. Curtis
  • Matthew G. Huebner
  • Jo-Anne LeFevre


Eye-tracking methods have only rarely been used to examine the online cognitive processing that occurs during mental arithmetic on simple arithmetic problems, that is, addition and multiplication problems with single-digit operands (e.g., operands 2 through 9; 2 + 3, 6 x 8) and the inverse subtraction and division problems (e.g., 5 – 3; 48 ÷ 6). Participants (N = 109) solved arithmetic problems from one of the four operations while their eye movements were recorded. We found three unique fixation patterns. During addition and multiplication, participants allocated half of their fixations to the operator and one-quarter to each operand, independent of problem size. The pattern was similar on small subtraction and division problems. However, on large subtraction problems, fixations were distributed approximately evenly across the three stimulus components. On large division problems, over half of the fixations occurred on the left operand, with the rest distributed between the operation sign and the right operand. We discuss the relations between these eye tracking patterns and other research on the differences in processing across arithmetic operations.