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Top Cogn Sci. 2010 Apr;2(2):265-84. doi: 10.1111/j.1756-8765.2009.01055.x. Epub 2009 Oct 30.

The education of perception.

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Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana UniversityDepartment of Psychology, University of RichmondDepartment of Psychology, California State University, Los Angeles.


Although the field of perceptual learning has mostly been concerned with low- to middle-level changes to perceptual systems due to experience, we consider high-level perceptual changes that accompany learning in science and mathematics. In science, we explore the transfer of a scientific principle (competitive specialization) across superficially dissimilar pedagogical simulations. We argue that transfer occurs when students develop perceptual interpretations of an initial simulation and simply continue to use the same interpretational bias when interacting with a second simulation. In arithmetic and algebraic reasoning, we find that proficiency in mathematics involves executing spatially explicit transformations to notational elements. People learn to attend mathematical operations in the order in which they should be executed, and the extent to which students employ their perceptual attention in this manner is positively correlated with their mathematical experience. For both science and mathematics, relatively sophisticated performance is achieved not by ignoring perceptual features in favor of deep conceptual features, but rather by adapting perceptual processing so as to conform with and support formally sanctioned responses. These "rigged-up perceptual systems" offer a promising approach to educational reform.


Complex systems; Education; Mathematical reasoning; Perceptual learning; Scientific reasoning

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