The Impacts of Representational Fluency on Cognitive Processing of Cryptography Concepts


Joseph Beckman, Sumra Bari, Yingjie Chen, Melissa Dark, and Baijian Yang, Purdue University


fMRI presents a new measurement tool for the measurement of cognitive processing. fMRI analysis has been used in neuroscience to determine where cognitive processing takes place when people are exposed to environmental stimuli and has been used to determine where students and experts process basic mathematical functions. This research sought to understand where cryptography was processed in the brain, how representational translation impacts cognitive processing, and how instruction focused on teaching representational fluency in cryptography concepts impacts cognitive processing of cryptography. Subjects were given a multiple-choice pretest, instructed during the semester in the concepts of interest to this research, given a multiple-choice post-test, then subjected to the fMRI scan while prompted to process these concepts. Results of the study show that cryptography is processed in areas indicative of the representational forms in which they were presented, as well as engaging the executive processing areas of the brain. For example, cryptography presented visually was processed in the brain in similar areas as other concepts presented visually, but also engaged the areas of the brain that organize and process complex concepts. However, the research team did not find significant results related to the cognitive processing of translating among representations, nor did we find significant changes in cognitive processing of cryptography for topics in which the focus of instruction was teaching representational fluency. Pre and post test results showed subject performed better on concepts instructed using representational fluency against concepts instructed without a focus on representational fluency, but the difference was not significant at α=.05.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {209364,
author = {Joseph Beckman and Sumra Bari and Yingjie Chen and Melissa Dark and Baijian Yang},
title = {The Impacts of Representational Fluency on Cognitive Processing of Cryptography Concepts},
booktitle = {The LASER Workshop: Learning from Authoritative Security Experiment Results (LASER 2017)},
year = {2017},
isbn = {978-1-931971-41-6},
pages = {59--67},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = oct