Individual Differences in Math Ability Determine Neurocognitive Processing of Arithmetic Complexity: A Combined fNIRS-EEG Study.
ABSTRACT: 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:Neurocognitive studies of arithmetic learning in adults have revealed decreasing brain activation in the fronto-parietal network, along with increasing activation of specific cortical and subcortical areas during learning. Both changes are associated with a shift from procedural to retrieval strategies for problem-solving. Here we address the critical, open question of whether similar neurocognitive changes are also evident in children. In this study, 20 typically developing children were trained to solve simple and complex multiplication problems. The one-session and two-week training effects were monitored using simultaneous functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and electroencephalography (EEG). FNIRS measurement after one session of training on complex multiplication problems revealed decreased activation at the left angular gyrus (AG), right superior parietal lobule, and right intraparietal sulcus. Two weeks of training led to decreased activation at the left AG and right middle frontal gyrus. For both simple and complex problems, we observed increased alpha power in EEG measurements as children worked on trained versus untrained problems. In line with previous multiplication training studies in adults, reduced activation within the fronto-parietal network was observed after training. Contrary to adults, we found that strategy shifts via arithmetic learning were not contingent on the activation of the left AG in children.
Project description:Developmental dyscalculia (DD) is a disability that impacts math learning and skill acquisition in school-age children. Here we investigate arithmetic problem solving deficits in young children with DD using univariate and multivariate analysis of fMRI data. During fMRI scanning, 17 children with DD (ages 7-9, grades 2 and 3) and 17 IQ- and reading ability-matched typically developing (TD) children performed complex and simple addition problems which differed only in arithmetic complexity. While the TD group showed strong modulation of brain responses with increasing arithmetic complexity, children with DD failed to show such modulation. Children with DD showed significantly reduced activation compared to TD children in the intraparietal sulcus, superior parietal lobule, supramarginal gyrus and bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in relation to arithmetic complexity. Critically, multivariate representational similarity revealed that brain response patterns to complex and simple problems were less differentiated in the DD group in bilateral anterior IPS, independent of overall differences in signal level. Taken together, these results show that children with DD not only under-activate key brain regions implicated in mathematical cognition, but they also fail to generate distinct neural responses and representations for different arithmetic problems. Our findings provide novel insights into the neural basis of DD.
Project description:Language and math are intertwined during children's learning of arithmetic concepts, but the importance of language in adult arithmetic processing is less clear. To determine whether early learning plays a critical role in the math-language connection in adults, we tested retrieval of simple multiplication in adult bilinguals who learned arithmetic in only one language. We measured electrophysiological and behavioral responses during correctness judgments for problems presented as digits or as number words in Spanish or English. Problems presented in the language in which participants learned arithmetic elicited larger, more graded, and qualitatively different brain responses than did problems presented in participants' other language, and these responses more closely resembled responses for digits, even when participants' other language was more dominant. These findings suggest that the memory networks for simple multiplication are established when arithmetic concepts are first learned and are independent of language dominance in adulthood.
Project description:Fluency with simple arithmetic, typically achieved in early elementary school, is thought to be one of the building blocks of mathematical competence. Behavioral studies with adults indicate that math anxiety (feelings of tension or apprehension about math) is associated with poor performance on cognitively demanding math problems. However, it remains unclear whether there are fundamental differences in how high and low math anxious individuals approach overlearned simple arithmetic problems that are less reliant on cognitive control. The current study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neural correlates of simple arithmetic performance across high and low math anxious individuals. We implemented a partial least squares analysis, a data-driven, multivariate analysis method to measure distributed patterns of whole-brain activity associated with performance. Despite overall high simple arithmetic performance across high and low math anxious individuals, performance was differentially dependent on the fronto-parietal attentional network as a function of math anxiety. Specifically, low-compared to high-math anxious individuals perform better when they activate this network less-a potential indication of more automatic problem-solving. These findings suggest that low and high math anxious individuals approach even the most fundamental math problems differently.
Project description:Although solving arithmetic problems approximately is an important skill in everyday life, little is known about the development of this skill. Past research has shown that when children are asked to solve multi-digit multiplication problems approximately, they provide estimates that are often very far from the exact answer. This is unfortunate as computation estimation is needed in many circumstances in daily life. The present study examined 4th graders, 6th graders and adults' ability to estimate the results of arithmetic problems relative to a reference number. A developmental pattern was observed in accuracy, speed and strategy use. With age there was a general increase in speed, and an increase in accuracy mainly for trials in which the reference number was close to the exact answer. The children tended to use the sense of magnitude strategy, which does not involve any calculation but relies mainly on an intuitive coarse sense of magnitude, while the adults used the approximated calculation strategy which involves rounding and multiplication procedures, and relies to a greater extent on calculation skills and working memory resources. Importantly, the children were less accurate than the adults, but were well above chance level. In all age groups performance was enhanced when the reference number was smaller (vs. larger) than the exact answer and when it was far (vs. close) from it, suggesting the involvement of an approximate number system. The results suggest the existence of an intuitive sense of magnitude for the results of arithmetic problems that might help children and even adults with difficulties in math. The present findings are discussed in the context of past research reporting poor estimation skills among children, and the conditions that might allow using children estimation skills in an effective manner.
Project description:The present study investigates the relation between resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) of cytoarchitectonically defined subdivisions of the parietal cortex at the end of 1st grade and arithmetic performance at the end of 2nd grade. Results revealed a dissociable pattern of relations between rsFC and arithmetic competence among subdivisions of intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and angular gyrus (AG). rsFC between right hemisphere IPS subdivisions and contralateral IPS subdivisions positively correlated with arithmetic competence. In contrast, rsFC between the left hIP1 and the right medial temporal lobe, and rsFC between the left AG and left superior frontal gyrus, were negatively correlated with arithmetic competence. These results suggest that strong inter-hemispheric IPS connectivity is important for math development, reflecting either neurocognitive mechanisms specific to arithmetic processing, domain-general mechanisms that are particularly relevant to arithmetic competence, or structural 'cortical maturity'. Stronger connectivity between IPS, and AG, subdivisions and frontal and temporal cortices, however, appears to be negatively associated with math development, possibly reflecting the ability to disengage suboptimal problem-solving strategies during mathematical processing, or to flexibly reorient task-based networks. Importantly, the reported results pertain even when controlling for reading, spatial attention, and working memory, suggesting that the observed rsFC-behavior relations are specific to arithmetic competence.
Project description:Early elementary schooling in 2nd and 3rd grades (ages 7-9) is an important period for the acquisition and mastery of basic mathematical skills. Yet, we know very little about neurodevelopmental changes that might occur over a year of schooling. Here we examine behavioral and neurodevelopmental changes underlying arithmetic problem solving in a well-matched group of 2nd (n = 45) and 3rd (n = 45) grade children. Although 2nd and 3rd graders did not differ on IQ or grade- and age-normed measures of math, reading and working memory, 3rd graders had higher raw math scores (effect sizes = 1.46-1.49) and were more accurate than 2nd graders in an fMRI task involving verification of simple and complex two-operand addition problems (effect size = 0.43). In both 2nd and 3rd graders, arithmetic complexity was associated with increased responses in right inferior frontal sulcus and anterior insula, regions implicated in domain-general cognitive control, and in left intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and superior parietal lobule (SPL) regions important for numerical and arithmetic processing. Compared to 2nd graders, 3rd graders showed greater activity in dorsal stream parietal areas right SPL, IPS and angular gyrus (AG) as well as ventral visual stream areas bilateral lingual gyrus (LG), right lateral occipital cortex (LOC) and right parahippocampal gyrus (PHG). Significant differences were also observed in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), with 3rd graders showing greater activation in left dorsal lateral PFC (dlPFC) and greater deactivation in the ventral medial PFC (vmPFC). Third graders also showed greater functional connectivity between the left dlPFC and multiple posterior brain areas, with larger differences in dorsal stream parietal areas SPL and AG, compared to ventral stream visual areas LG, LOC and PHG. No such between-grade differences were observed in functional connectivity between the vmPFC and posterior brain regions. These results suggest that even the narrow one-year interval spanning grades 2 and 3 is characterized by significant arithmetic task-related changes in brain response and connectivity, and argue that pooling data across wide age ranges and grades can miss important neurodevelopmental changes. Our findings have important implications for understanding brain mechanisms mediating early maturation of mathematical skills and, more generally, for educational neuroscience.
Project description:The triple-code model (TCM) of number processing suggests the involvement of distinct parietal cortex areas in arithmetic operations: the bilateral horizontal segment of the intraparietal sulcus (hIPS) for arithmetic operations that require the manipulation of numerical quantities (e.g., subtraction) and the left angular gyrus (AG) for arithmetic operations that require the retrieval of answers from long-term memory (e.g., multiplication). Although neuropsychological, neuroimaging, and brain stimulation studies suggest the dissociation of these operations into distinct parietal cortex areas, the role of strategy (online calculation vs. retrieval) is not yet fully established. In the present study, we further explored the causal involvement of the left AG for multiplication and left hIPS for subtraction using a neuronavigated repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) paradigm. Stimulation sites were determined based on an fMRI experiment using the same tasks. To account for the effect of strategy, participants were asked whether they used retrieval or calculation for each individual problem. We predicted that the stimulation of the left AG would selectively disrupt the retrieval of the solution to multiplication problems. On the other hand, stimulation of the left hIPS should selectively disrupt subtraction. Our results revealed that left AG stimulation was detrimental to the retrieval and online calculation of solutions for multiplication problems, as well as, the retrieval (but not online calculation) of the solutions to subtraction problems. In contrast, left hIPS stimulation had no detrimental effect on both operations regardless of strategy.
Project description:Math anxiety, defined as a negative affective response to mathematics, is known to have deleterious effects on math performance in the general population. However, the assumption that math anxiety is directly related to math performance, has not yet been validated. Thus, our primary objective was to investigate the effects of math anxiety on numerical processing in children with specific deficits in the acquisition of math skills (Developmental Dyscalculia; DD) by using a novel affective priming task as an indirect measure.Participants (12 children with DD and 11 typically-developing peers) completed a novel priming task in which an arithmetic equation was preceded by one of four types of priming words (positive, neutral, negative or related to mathematics). Children were required to indicate whether the equation (simple math facts based on addition, subtraction, multiplication or division) was true or false. Typically, people respond to target stimuli more quickly after presentation of an affectively-related prime than after one that is unrelated affectively.Participants with DD responded faster to targets that were preceded by both negative primes and math-related primes. A reversed pattern was present in the control group.These results reveal a direct link between emotions, arithmetic and low achievement in math. It is also suggested that arithmetic-affective priming might be used as an indirect measure of math anxiety.
Project description:Although lesion studies over the past several decades have focused on functional dissociations in posterior parietal cortex (PPC) during arithmetic, no consistent view has emerged of its differential involvement in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. To circumvent problems with poor anatomical localization, we examined functional overlap and dissociations in cytoarchitectonically defined subdivisions of the intraparietal sulcus (IPS), superior parietal lobule (SPL) and angular gyrus (AG), across these four operations. Compared to a number identification control task, all operations except addition, showed a consistent profile of left posterior IPS activation and deactivation in the right posterior AG. Multiplication and subtraction differed significantly in right, but not left, IPS and AG activity, challenging the view that the left AG differentially subserves retrieval during multiplication. Although addition and multiplication both rely on retrieval, multiplication evoked significantly greater activation in right posterior IPS, as well as the prefrontal cortex, lingual and fusiform gyri, demonstrating that addition and multiplication engage different brain processes. Comparison of PPC responses to the two pairs of inverse operations: division versus multiplication and subtraction versus addition revealed greater activation of left lateral SPL during division, suggesting that processing inverse relations is operation specific. Our findings demonstrate that individual IPS, SPL and AG subdivisions are differentially modulated by the four arithmetic operations and they point to significant functional heterogeneity and individual differences in activation and deactivation within the PPC. Critically, these effects are related to retrieval, calculation and inversion, the three key cognitive processes that are differentially engaged by arithmetic operations. Our findings point to distribute representation of these processes in the human PPC and also help explain why lesion and previous imaging studies have yielded inconsistent findings.