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Expert and Novice Approaches to Reading Mathematical Proofs

Matthew Inglis and Lara Alcock 

July 2012, Volume 43, Issue 4, Page 358

Abstract:
A comparison of the proof validation behavior of beginning undergraduate students and research-active mathematicians is explored. Participants’ eye movements were recorded as they validated purported proofs. The main findings are that (a) contrary to previous suggestions, mathematicians sometimes appear to disagree about the validity of even short purported proofs; (b) compared with mathematicians, undergraduate students spend proportionately more time focusing on “surface features” of arguments, suggesting that they attend less to logical structure; and (c) compared with undergraduates, mathematicians are more inclined to shift their attention back and forth between consecutive lines of purported proofs, suggesting that they devote more effort to inferring implicit warrants.

Keywords:
Higher Education