Negative numbers in simple arithmetic
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Are negative numbers processed differently than positive numbers in arithmetic problems? In two experiments, adults (N = 66) solved standard addition and subtraction problems such as 3 + 4 and 7 – 4 and recasted versions that included explicit negative signs, that is, 3 – (-4), 7 + (-4), and (-4) + 7. Solution times on the recasted problems were slower than on standard problems, but the effect was much larger for addition than subtraction. The negative sign may prime subtraction in both kinds of recasted problems. Problem size effects were the same or smaller in recasted as compared to standard problems, suggesting that the recasted formats did not interfere with mental calculation. These results suggest that the underlying conceptual structure of the problem (i.e., addition vs. subtraction) is more important for solution processes than the presence of negative numbers.
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