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      A One-Year Classroom-Randomized Trial of Mental Abacus Instruction for First- and Second-Grade Students


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          Mental Abacus (MA) is a popular arithmetic technique in which students learn to solve math problems by visualizing a physical abacus structure. Prior studies conducted in Asia have found that MA can lead to exceptional mathematics achievement in highly motivated individuals, and that extensive training over multiple years can also benefit students in standard classroom settings. Here we explored the benefits of shorter-term MA training to typical students in a US school. Specifically, we tested whether MA (1) improves arithmetic performance relative to a standard math curriculum, and (2) leads to changes in spatial working memory, as claimed by several recent reports. To address these questions, we conducted a one-year, classroom-randomized trial of MA instruction. We found that first-graders students struggled to achieve abacus expertise over the course of the year, while second-graders were more successful. Neither age group showed a significant advantage in cognitive abilities or mathematical computation relative to controls, although older children showed some hints of an advantage in learning place-value concepts. Overall, our results suggest caution in the adoption of MA as a short-term educational intervention.

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          Random effects structure for confirmatory hypothesis testing: Keep it maximal.

          Linear mixed-effects models (LMEMs) have become increasingly prominent in psycholinguistics and related areas. However, many researchers do not seem to appreciate how random effects structures affect the generalizability of an analysis. Here, we argue that researchers using LMEMs for confirmatory hypothesis testing should minimally adhere to the standards that have been in place for many decades. Through theoretical arguments and Monte Carlo simulation, we show that LMEMs generalize best when they include the maximal random effects structure justified by the design. The generalization performance of LMEMs including data-driven random effects structures strongly depends upon modeling criteria and sample size, yielding reasonable results on moderately-sized samples when conservative criteria are used, but with little or no power advantage over maximal models. Finally, random-intercepts-only LMEMs used on within-subjects and/or within-items data from populations where subjects and/or items vary in their sensitivity to experimental manipulations always generalize worse than separate F 1 and F 2 tests, and in many cases, even worse than F 1 alone. Maximal LMEMs should be the 'gold standard' for confirmatory hypothesis testing in psycholinguistics and beyond.
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            The capacity of visual working memory for features and conjunctions.

            Short-term memory storage can be divided into separate subsystems for verbal information and visual information, and recent studies have begun to delineate the neural substrates of these working-memory systems. Although the verbal storage system has been well characterized, the storage capacity of visual working memory has not yet been established for simple, suprathreshold features or for conjunctions of features. Here we demonstrate that it is possible to retain information about only four colours or orientations in visual working memory at one time. However, it is also possible to retain both the colour and the orientation of four objects, indicating that visual working memory stores integrated objects rather than individual features. Indeed, objects defined by a conjunction of four features can be retained in working memory just as well as single-feature objects, allowing sixteen individual features to be retained when distributed across four objects. Thus, the capacity of visual working memory must be understood in terms of integrated objects rather than individual features, which places significant constraints on cognitive and neurobiological models of the temporary storage of visual information.
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              No evidence of intelligence improvement after working memory training: a randomized, placebo-controlled study.

              Numerous recent studies seem to provide evidence for the general intellectual benefits of working memory training. In reviews of the training literature, Shipstead, Redick, and Engle (2010, 2012) argued that the field should treat recent results with a critical eye. Many published working memory training studies suffer from design limitations (no-contact control groups, single measures of cognitive constructs), mixed results (transfer of training gains to some tasks but not others, inconsistent transfer to the same tasks across studies), and lack of theoretical grounding (identifying the mechanisms responsible for observed transfer). The current study compared young adults who received 20 sessions of practice on an adaptive dual n-back program (working memory training group) or an adaptive visual search program (active placebo-control group) with a no-contact control group that received no practice. In addition, all subjects completed pretest, midtest, and posttest sessions comprising multiple measures of fluid intelligence, multitasking, working memory capacity, crystallized intelligence, and perceptual speed. Despite improvements on both the dual n-back and visual search tasks with practice, and despite a high level of statistical power, there was no positive transfer to any of the cognitive ability tests. We discuss these results in the context of previous working memory training research and address issues for future working memory training studies. PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved.

                Author and article information

                J Numer Cogn
                Journal of Numerical Cognition
                J. Numer. Cogn.
                30 January 2018
                : 3
                : 3
                : 540-558
                [a ]Department of Psychology, University of California , San Diego, CA, USA
                [b ]Department of Psychology, Stanford University , Stanford, CA, USA
                [c ]Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania , Philadelphia, PA, USA
                Author notes
                [* ]Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, 92093-0109, USA. barner@ 123456ucsd.edu

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 24 November 2016
                : 26 May 2017
                Self URI (journal-page): https://journals.psychopen.eu/
                Research Reports

                mental abacus,spatial working memory,Math education,mental arithmetic,place value
                mental abacus, spatial working memory, Math education, mental arithmetic, place value


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