Possible number systems

Lance Rips*, Samantha Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Number systems - such as the natural numbers, integers, rationals, reals, or complex numbers - play a foundational role in mathematics, but these systems can present difficulties for students. In the studies reported here, we probed the boundaries of people's concept of a number system by asking them whether "number lines" of varying shapes qualify as possible number systems. In Experiment 1, participants rated each of a set of number lines as a possible number system, where the number lines differed in their structures (a single straight line, a step-shaped line, a double line, or two branching structures) and in their boundedness (unbounded, bounded below, bounded above, bounded above and below, or circular). Participants also rated each of a group of mathematical properties (e.g., associativity) for its importance to number systems. Relational properties, such as associativity, predicted whether participants believed that particular forms were number systems, as did the forms' ability to support arithmetic operations, such as addition. In Experiment 2, we asked participants to produce properties that were important for number systems. Relational, operation, and use-based properties from this set again predicted ratings of whether the number lines were possible number systems. In Experiment 3, we found similar results when the number lines indicated the positions of the individual numbers. The results suggest that people believe that number systems should be well-behaved with respect to basic arithmetic operations, and that they reject systems for which these operations produce ambiguous answers. People care much less about whether the systems have particular numbers (e.g., 0) or sets of numbers (e.g., the positives).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-23
Number of pages21
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Volume14
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

Keywords

  • Mathematical cognition
  • Number representation
  • Number systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Medicine(all)

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