First Advisor

Kole, James A.

First Committee Member

Jameson, Molly M.

Second Committee Member

Karlin, Nancy J.

Third Committee Member

Holighi, Khalil Shafie

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Abstraction may be defined as the process of isolating commonalities from a series of examples. Numerical estimates (e.g., Brown & Siegler, 2001), prototypes (e.g., Posner & Keele, 1968), and scripts (e.g., Schank & Abelson, 1977) are forms of abstract representations. Abstraction may differ across individuals, with some relying more on memorizing individual examples than on forming abstract representations, or vice versa. McDaniel et al. (2014) elucidated this abstractor vs. memorizer distinction and developed a function learning task to categorize individuals. Subsequent research has explored this distinction as it applies to transfer, the application of previously learned knowledge to new situations (Torrey & Shavlik, 2010). Specifically, it has been proposed that those who form abstract representations are also better able to transfer learning to new situations; however, these effects have been weak and inconsistent. These weak and inconsistent findings may be due to differences in the domains between measures of abstraction and transfer tasks. Thus, the purpose of this study was threefold. The first purpose was to develop a new task of verbal abstraction, the word root learning test. The second purpose was to explore whether verbal abstraction is related to other types of abstraction, specifically numerical abstraction, or more generally to test whether abstraction is a domain-specific or domain-general capability. The last purpose was to examine whether numerical and verbal abstraction relate differently to performance on a reading comprehension test. In this study, which included 44 participants, numerical abstraction was measured with a numerical averaging task. Verbal abstraction was measured with a newly developed word root learning task in which participants learned the definitions of several words derived from a single word root, then were tested on the meaning of a new derivative as well as the word root itself. Lastly, participants completed a reading comprehension test. The results indicated that subjects were able to transfer learned definitions to new derivatives. Numerical abstraction and verbal abstraction were unrelated to one another; however, neither was related to accuracy on the reading comprehension test. An ability to measure abstraction, as well as different types of abstraction, holds implications for educational practice.

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83 pages

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Available for download on Saturday, January 31, 2026