Finger Tracking Reveals the Covert Stages of Mental Arithmetic.
ABSTRACT: 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: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: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: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:We examined cross-domain semantic priming effects between arithmetic and language. We paired subtractions with their linguistic equivalent, exception phrases (EPs) with positive quantifiers (e.g., "everybody except John") while pairing additions with their own linguistic equivalent, EPs with negative quantifiers (e.g., "nobody except John"; Moltmann, 1995). We hypothesized that EPs with positive quantifiers prime subtractions and inhibit additions while EPs with negative quantifiers prime additions and inhibit subtractions. Furthermore, we expected similar priming and inhibition effects from arithmetic into semantics. Our design allowed for a bidirectional analysis by using one trial's target as the prime for the next trial. Two experiments failed to show significant priming effects in either direction. Implications and possible shortcomings are explored in the general discussion.
Project description:Arithmetic abilities are among the most important school-taught skills and form the basis for higher mathematical competencies. At the same time, their acquisition and application can be challenging. Hence, there is broad interest in methods to improve arithmetic abilities. One promising method is transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). In the present study, we compared two anodal tDCS protocols in their efficacy to improve arithmetic performance and working memory. In addition, we investigated stimulation-related electrophysiological changes. Three groups of participants solved arithmetic problems (additions and subtractions) and an n-back task before, during, and after receiving either frontal or parietal anodal tDCS (25 min; 1 mA) or sham stimulation. EEG was simultaneously recorded to assess stimulation effects on event-related (de-) synchronisation (ERS/ERD) in theta and alpha bands. Persons receiving frontal stimulation showed an acceleration of calculation speed in large subtractions from before to during and after stimulation. However, a comparable, but delayed (apparent only after stimulation) increase was also found in the sham stimulation group, while it was absent in the group receiving parietal stimulation. In additions and small subtractions as well as the working memory task, analyses showed no effects of stimulation. Results of ERS/ERD during large subtractions indicate changes in ERS/ERD patterns over time. In the left hemisphere there was a change from theta band ERD to ERS in all three groups, whereas a similar change in the right hemisphere was restricted to the sham group. Taken together, tDCS did not lead to a general improvement of arithmetic performance. However, results indicate that frontal stimulation accelerated training gains, while parietal stimulation halted them. The absence of general performance improvements, but acceleration of training effects might be a further indicator of the advantages of using tDCS as training or learning support over tDCS as a sole performance enhancer.
Project description: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:Turner syndrome (TS) is a neurogenetic disorder characterized by the absence of one X chromosome in a phenotypic female. Individuals with TS are at risk for impairments in mathematics. We investigated the neural mechanisms underlying arithmetic processing in TS. Fifteen subjects with TS and 15 age-matched typically developing controls were scanned using functional MRI while they performed easy (two-operand) and difficult (three-operand) versions of an arithmetic processing task. Both groups activated fronto-parietal regions involved in arithmetic processing during the math tasks. Compared with controls, the TS group recruited additional neural resources in frontal and parietal regions during the easier, two-operand math task. During the more difficult three-operand task, individuals with TS demonstrated significantly less activation in frontal, parietal and subcortical regions than controls. However, the TS group's performance on both math tasks was comparable to controls. Individuals with TS demonstrate activation differences in fronto-parietal areas during arithmetic tasks compared with controls. They must recruit additional brain regions during a relatively easy task and demonstrate a potentially inefficient response to increased task difficulty compared with controls.
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:A possible origin of novel coding sequences is the removal of stop codons, leading to the inclusion of 3' untranslated regions (3' UTRs) within genes. We classified changes in the position of stop codons in closely related Saccharomyces species and in a mouse/rat comparison as either additions to or subtractions from coding regions. In both cases, the position of stop codons is highly labile, with more subtractions than additions found. The subtraction bias may be balanced by the input of new coding regions through gene duplication. Saccharomyces shows less stop codon lability than rodents, probably due to greater selective constraint. A higher proportion of 3' UTR incorporation events preserve frame in Saccharomyces. This higher proportion is consistent with the action of the [PSI(+)] prion as an evolutionary capacitor to facilitate 3' UTR incorporation in yeast.
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.