Numerical Cognition, Reasoning and Working memory

Our research group is specialized in the study of cognitive development, more precisely in the domains of thinking, reasoning, and problem solving. Three main topics are investigated.


Numerical cognition

Our first topic of research concerns numerical activities and their development in kindergartners, primary school children, but also adolescents and adults. Our main domain of inquiry is problem solving, from elementary arithmetic problem solving such as simple addition, subtraction and multiplication to more complex word problem solving. In this domain as in reasoning studies, we aim at identifying the representations and processes used by children and adults to solve problems. A better understanding of how human beings represent and use numbers to solve problems should help in understanding why some children and adolescents encounter difficulties in mathematics and how we could help them in their curriculum.



The second concerns the development from childhood to adulthood of conditional reasoning permitted by “if … then” sentences. Based on the theoretical framework provided by Johnson-Laird and Byrne’s mental model theory of propositional reasoning, our research program has two main objectives: (1) to understand the nature of the representations and processes involved in understanding conditional sentences and drawing inferences from conditional premises, (2) to describe how these representations and processes evolve with age. Of particular interest for us is the development in children and adolescents of logic and rationality and how the mechanisms underpinning logical thinking are affected by content, context, pragmatic knowledge and the limited capacity of the cognitive system.


Working memory

Both reasoning and problem solving involve what is described in cognitive psychology as high level activities. These activities are known to involve complex processes, controlled attention and the allocation of cognitive resources. One of the main constraints on high level cognition is the limited capacity of working memory. Our third domain of interest is thus working memory functioning and development. We are designing a new model of working memory accounting for the main limitations of working memory capacity and the roots of developmental and individual differences in high level cognition.