Parsing of algebraic expressions by experienced users of mathematics

Anthony Jansen, Kimbal George Marriott, Gregory Wayne Yelland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


The present study investigates how experienced users of mathematics parse algebraic expressions. The main issues examined are the order in which the symbols in an expression are scanned and the duration of fixation. Two experiments tracked the order in which the symbols of an expression were scanned. The results were analysed using Markov Chain models of the scanpath data and provided strong support for the hypothesised scanning order: a left-to-right, top-to-bottom syntax-based scanning order. Length of fixation was also analysed in the first experiment. When reading text, readers pause significantly longer at the end of clauses and sentences. A similar pattern was found for mathematical expressions: Symbols at the end of a phrasal constituent were fixated upon for significantly longer than symbols at the start or middle of the phrasal constituent. These results suggest that the parsing of algebraic expressions has marked similarities with the way in which sentences of natural language are processed and reinforces the importance of syntax in their comprehension.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286 - 320
Number of pages35
JournalEuropean Journal of Cognitive Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007

Cite this