Spatial biases during mental arithmetic: evidence from eye movements on a blank screen.
ABSTRACT: While the influence of spatial-numerical associations in number categorization tasks has been well established, their role in mental arithmetic is less clear. It has been hypothesized that mental addition leads to rightward and upward shifts of spatial attention (along the "mental number line"), whereas subtraction leads to leftward and downward shifts. We addressed this hypothesis by analyzing spontaneous eye movements during mental arithmetic. Participants solved verbally presented arithmetic problems (e.g., 2 + 7, 8-3) aloud while looking at a blank screen. We found that eye movements reflected spatial biases in the ongoing mental operation: Gaze position shifted more upward when participants solved addition compared to subtraction problems, and the horizontal gaze position was partly determined by the magnitude of the operands. Interestingly, the difference between addition and subtraction trials was driven by the operator (plus vs. minus) but was not influenced by the computational process. Thus, our results do not support the idea of a mental movement toward the solution during arithmetic but indicate a semantic association between operation and space.
Project description:Growing evidence suggests that mental calculation might involve movements of attention along a spatial representation of numerical magnitude. Addition and subtraction on nonsymbolic numbers (numerosities) seem to induce a "momentum" effect, and have been linked to distinct patterns of neural activity in cortical regions subserving attention and eye movements. We investigated whether mental arithmetic on symbolic numbers, a cornerstone of abstract mathematical reasoning, can be affected by the manipulation of overt spatial attention induced by optokinetic stimulation (OKS). Participants performed additions or subtractions of auditory two-digit numbers during horizontal (experiment 1) or vertical OKS (experiment 2), and eye movements were concurrently recorded. In both experiments, the results of addition problems were underestimated, whereas results of subtractions were overestimated (a pattern that is opposite to the classic Operational Momentum effect). While this tendency was unaffected by OKS, vertical OKS modulated the occurrence of decade errors during subtractions (i.e., fewer during downward OKS and more frequent during upward OKS). Eye movements, on top of the classic effect induced by OKS, were affected by the type of operation during the calculation phase, with subtraction consistently leading to a downward shift of gaze position and addition leading to an upward shift. These results highlight the pervasive nature of spatial processing in mental arithmetic. Furthermore, the preeminent effect of vertical OKS is in line with the hypothesis that the vertical dimension of space-number associations is grounded in universal (physical) constraints and, thereby, more robust than situated and culture-dependent associations with the horizontal dimension.
Project description:Many studies have shown that solving addition and subtraction problems can induce overt shifts of spatial attention. In particular, right-side targets are detected faster than left-side targets when preceded by an addition operation, while left-side targets are detected faster than right-side targets when preceded by a subtraction operation. However, the interaction between space and arithmetic in multiplication or division is hardly studied and remains controversial. In order to make a strong case for the interaction between space and mental arithmetic, we attempted to replicate the spatial-arithmetic association in addition and subtraction (Experiment 1), and at the same time investigated whether shift of spatial attention would also be induced by multiplication or division operations (Experiment 2). We found that solving addition problems facilitated the detection of right-side targets, whereas left-side targets were detected faster after solving subtraction problems. However, no interaction between space and arithmetic operation was observed in multiplication or division. The implication of these findings is discussed.
Project description:It has been proposed that elementary arithmetic induces spatial shifts of attention. However, the timing of this arithmetic-space association remains unknown. Here we investigate this issue with a target detection paradigm. Detecting targets in the right visual field was faster than in the left visual field when preceded by an addition operation, while detecting targets in the left visual field was faster than in the right visual field when preceded by a subtraction operation. The arithmetic-space association was found both at the end of the arithmetic operation and during calculation. In contrast, the processing of operators themselves did not induce spatial biases. Our results suggest that the arithmetic-space association resides in the mental arithmetic operation rather than in the individual numbers or the operators. Moreover, the temporal course of this effect was different in addition and subtraction.
Project description:Positive number arithmetic is based on combining and separating sets of items, with systematic differences in brain activity in specific regions depending on operation. In contrast, arithmetic with negative numbers involves manipulating abstract values worth less than zero, possibly involving different operation-activity relationships in these regions. Use of procedural arithmetic knowledge, including transformative rules like "minus a negative is plus a positive," may also differ by operand sign. Here, we examined whether the activity evoked in negative number arithmetic was similar to that seen in positive problems, using region of interest analyses (ROIs) to examine a specific set of brain regions. Negative-operand problems demonstrated a positive-like effect of operation in the inferior parietal lobule with more activity for subtraction than addition, as well as increased activity across operation. Interestingly, while positive-operand problems demonstrated the expected addition > subtraction activity difference in the angular gyrus, negative problems showed a reversed effect, with relatively more activity for subtraction than addition. Negative subtraction problems may be understood after translation to addition via rule, thereby invoking more addition-like activity. Whole-brain analyses showed increased right caudate activity for negative-operand problems across operation, indicating a possible overall increase in usage of procedural rules. Arithmetic with negative numbers may thus shows some operation-activity relationships similar to positive numbers, but may also be affected by strategy. This study examines the flexibility of the mental number system by exploring to what degree the processing of an applied usage of a difficult, abstract mathematical concept is similar to that for positive numbers.
Project description:Understanding the meaning of abstract mathematical symbols is a cornerstone of arithmetic learning in children. Studies have long focused on the role of spatial intuitions in the processing of numerals. However, it has been argued that such intuitions may also underlie symbols that convey fundamental arithmetic concepts, such as arithmetic operators. In the present cross-sectional study, we used fMRI to investigate how and when associations between arithmetic operators and brain regions processing spatial information emerge in children from 3rd to 10th grade. We found that the mere perception of a '+' sign elicited grade-related increases of spatial activity in the right hippocampus. That is, merely perceiving '+' signs - without any operands - elicited enhanced hippocampal activity after around 7th grade (12-13 years old). In these children, hippocampal activity in response to a '+' sign was further correlated with the degree to which calculation performance was facilitated by the preview of that sign before an addition problem, an effect termed operator-priming. Grade-related increases of hippocampal spatial activity were operation-specific because they were not observed with '×' signs, which might evoke rote retrieval rather than numerical manipulation. Our study raises the possibility that hippocampal spatial mechanisms help build associations between some arithmetic operators and space throughout age and/or education.
Project description:We introduce a novel method capable of dissecting the succession of processing stages underlying mental arithmetic, thus revealing how two numbers are transformed into a third. We asked adults to point to the result of single-digit additions and subtractions on a number line, while their finger trajectory was constantly monitored. We found that the two operands are processed serially: the finger first points toward the larger operand, then slowly veers toward the correct result. This slow deviation unfolds proportionally to the size of the smaller operand, in both additions and subtractions. We also observed a transient operator effect: a plus sign attracted the finger to the right and a minus sign to the left and a transient activation of the absolute value of the subtrahend. These findings support a model whereby addition and subtraction are computed by a stepwise displacement on the mental number line, starting with the larger number and incrementally adding or subtracting the smaller number.
Project description:Some individuals experience more difficulties with math than others, in particular when arithmetic problems get more complex. Math ability, on one hand, and arithmetic complexity, on the other hand, seem to partly share neural underpinnings. This study addresses the question of whether this leads to an interaction of math ability and arithmetic complexity for multiplication and division on behavioral and neural levels. Previously screened individuals with high and low math ability solved multiplication and division problems in a written production paradigm while brain activation was assessed by combined functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and electroencephalography (EEG). Arithmetic complexity was manipulated by using single-digit operands for simple multiplication problems and operands between 2 and 19 for complex multiplication problems and the corresponding division problems. On the behavioral level, individuals with low math ability needed more time for calculation, especially for complex arithmetic. On the neural level, fNIRS results revealed that these individuals showed less activation in the left supramarginal gyrus (SMG), superior temporal gyrus (STG) and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) than individuals with high math ability when solving complex compared to simple arithmetic. This reflects the greater use of arithmetic fact retrieval and also the more efficient processing of arithmetic complexity by individuals with high math ability. Oscillatory EEG analysis generally revealed theta and alpha desynchronization with increasing arithmetic complexity but showed no interaction with math ability. Because of the discovered interaction for behavior and brain activation, we conclude that the consideration of individual differences is essential when investigating the neurocognitive processing of arithmetic.
Project description:Elementary arithmetic is highly prevalent in our daily lives. However, despite decades of research, we are only beginning to understand how the brain solves simple calculations. Here, we applied machine learning techniques to magnetoencephalography (MEG) signals in an effort to decompose the successive processing stages and mental transformations underlying elementary arithmetic. Adults subjects verified single-digit addition and subtraction problems such as 3 + 2 = 9 in which each successive symbol was presented sequentially. MEG signals revealed a cascade of partially overlapping brain states. While the first operand could be transiently decoded above chance level, primarily based on its visual properties, the decoding of the second operand was more accurate and lasted longer. Representational similarity analyses suggested that this decoding rested on both visual and magnitude codes. We were also able to decode the operation type (additions vs. subtraction) during practically the entire trial after the presentation of the operation sign. At the decision stage, MEG indicated a fast and highly overlapping temporal dynamics for (1) identifying the proposed result, (2) judging whether it was correct or incorrect, and (3) pressing the response button. Surprisingly, however, the internally computed result could not be decoded. Our results provide a first comprehensive picture of the unfolding processing stages underlying arithmetic calculations at a single-trial level, and suggest that externally and internally generated neural codes may have different neural substrates.
Project description:Some arithmetic procedures, such as addition of small numbers, rely on fact retrieval mechanisms supported by left hemisphere perisylvian language areas, while others, such as subtraction, rely on procedural-based mechanisms subserved by bilateral parietal cortices. Previous work suggests that developmental dyslexia, a reading disability, is accompanied by subtle deficits in retrieval-based arithmetic, possibly because of compromised left hemisphere function. To test this prediction, we compared brain activity underlying arithmetic problem solving in children with and without dyslexia during addition and subtraction operations using a factorial design. The main effect of arithmetic operation (addition versus subtraction) for both groups combined revealed activity during addition in the left superior temporal gyrus and activity during subtraction in the bilateral intraparietal sulcus, the right supramarginal gyrus and the anterior cingulate, consistent with prior studies. For the main effect of diagnostic group (dyslexics versus controls), we found less activity in dyslexic children in the left supramarginal gyrus. Finally, the interaction analysis revealed that while the control group showed a strong response in the right supramarginal gyrus for subtraction but not for addition, the dyslexic group engaged this region for both operations. This provides physiological evidence in support of the theory that children with dyslexia, because of disruption to left hemisphere language areas, use a less optimal route for retrieval-based arithmetic, engaging right hemisphere parietal regions typically used by good readers for procedural-based arithmetic. Our results highlight the importance of language processing for mathematical processing and illustrate that children with dyslexia have impairments that extend beyond reading.
Project description:Mastering single-digit arithmetic during school years is commonly thought to depend upon an increasing reliance on verbally memorized facts. An alternative model, however, posits that fluency in single-digit arithmetic might also be achieved via the increasing use of efficient calculation procedures. To test between these hypotheses, we used a cross-sectional design to measure the neural activity associated with single-digit subtraction and multiplication in 34 children from 2nd to 7th grade. The neural correlates of language and numerical processing were also identified in each child via localizer scans. Although multiplication and subtraction were undistinguishable in terms of behavior, we found a striking developmental dissociation in their neural correlates. First, we observed grade-related increases of activity for multiplication, but not for subtraction, in a language-related region of the left temporal cortex. Second, we found grade-related increases of activity for subtraction, but not for multiplication, in a region of the right parietal cortex involved in the procedural manipulation of numerical quantities. The present results suggest that fluency in simple arithmetic in children may be achieved by both increasing reliance on verbal retrieval and by greater use of efficient quantity-based procedures, depending on the operation.