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What role does memory play in solving mathematics problems?

Psychologist Dr. Reed Hunt, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is looking for some answers to that question. He'll pursue the subject for the next three years through a grant of $89,811 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.Running through May 1993, the grant was awarded through the institute's Academic Research Enhancement Awards program. Hunt's project is ``Problem Solving: Intentional vs. Unintentional Retrieval.'

The phenomenon Hunt will examine deals with the inability of people to use memory intentionally to solve algebra problems after they already have been exposed to - and solved - problems that are very similar.

Psychologists have started looking at the problem in the past five years.

``With certain types of problem-solving situations, you can actually give a person the solution to a problem before giving them the actual problem,' said Hunt.

``When they are asked to solve the problem, all they have to do is remember how they saw it solved earlier.

``They rarely if ever will spontaneously take that prior solution information and apply it. It's as if they don't retrieve that information from memory. We know they can remember but for some reason, they don't make the connection.'

Subjects will study practice problems and then be given test problems. Hunt will be measuring the memory transfer. About 300 volunteer subjects will be recruited from UNCG's incoming freshman classes.

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