How the Eyes Add Fractions: Adult Eye Movement Patterns During Fraction Addition Problems


  • Andreas Obersteiner
  • Isabella Staudinger


Recent studies have tracked eye movements to assess the cognitive processes involved in fraction comparison. This study advances that work by assessing eye movements during the more complex task of fraction addition. Adults mentally solved fraction addition problems that were presented on a computer screen. The study included four types of problems. The two fractions in each problem had either like denominators (e.g., 3/7 + 2/7), or unlike denominators exhibiting one of the following relationships: one denominator was a multiple of the other denominator (e.g., 2/3 + 1/9), both denominators were prime numbers (e.g., 2/7 + 3/5), or both denominators had a common divisor larger than one (e.g., 5/6 + 3/8). Self-reports, accuracy, and response times confirmed that participants adapted their strategy use according to problem type. We analysed the number of eye fixations on each fraction component, as well as the number of saccades (rapid eye movements) between fixations on components. We found that participants predominantly processed the fraction components separately rather than processing the overall fraction magnitudes. Alternating between the two denominators appeared to be the dominant process, although in problems with common denominators alternating between numerators was dominant. Participants rarely used diagonal saccades in any of the problems, which would indicate cross-multiplication. Our findings suggest that adults adapt their cognitive processes of fraction addition according to problem type. We discuss the implications of our findings for numerical cognition and mathematics education, as well as the limitations of our current understanding of eye movement patterns.