Early Fraction Learning: Links with Prosociality and Self and Other Perspective-Taking

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

Our goal is to better understand the ways in which thinking in the mathematics domain is related to the emergence of other cognitive building blocks in the early years. Only a handful of studies have examined how children between the ages of three and five years solve fraction problems, particularly without formal instruction (Hunting & Davis, 1991). This project examines children’s naïve thinking about such problems, and examines the types of prompts and frames that might facilitate problem solving in this domain.


Six different educational settings in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region that serve children ages three to six.

Research Design: 

The project uses a longitudinal and cross-sectional research design and will generate evidence that is descriptive [case study] and causal [experimental]. Original data will be collected on young children using assessments of learning and observation [personal observation and videography]. Data will be analyzed using quantitative analysis of test results across age groups and qualitative coding and analysis of mathematical strategies employed across age groups. Instruments include WPPSI, prosociality measure, Theory of Mind tests, math assessment tests, and fair sharing questionnaires.

In addition to the scores comprised for each separate task, an overall path analysis will be conducted to analyze the relationships and contribution of each factor to the overall model. We can also determine whether relationships are direct, or mediated by other factors. For instance, ToM might directly impact performance on social fraction tests, but this might be mediated by prosocial tendencies or vice versa. Prosociality might be mediated by ToM, which might then enhance performance on social tasks.


A pilot study has revealed interesting age differences in the ability to reason about proportions and fractions. Older children find the problems easier to solve, but both age groups encounter more difficulty as they are required to divide in parts rather than share whole items; i.e. as the complexity of the problem increases. However, the findings indicate that such concepts can be introduced earlier in the curriculum than is now common practice. Publication of the current results is currently in progress.