Hippocampal spatial mechanisms relate to the development of arithmetic symbol processing in children.
ABSTRACT: 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:Human adults from diverse cultures share intuitions about the points, lines, and figures of Euclidean geometry. Do children develop these intuitions by drawing on phylogenetically ancient and developmentally precocious geometric representations that guide their navigation and their analysis of object shape? In what way might these early-arising representations support later-developing Euclidean intuitions? To approach these questions, we investigated the relations among young children's use of geometry in tasks assessing: navigation; visual form analysis; and the interpretation of symbolic, purely geometric maps. Children's navigation depended on the distance and directional relations of the surface layout and predicted their use of a symbolic map with targets designated by surface distances. In contrast, children's analysis of visual forms depended on the size-invariant shape relations of objects and predicted their use of the same map but with targets designated by corner angles. Even though the two map tasks used identical instructions and map displays, children's performance on these tasks showed no evidence of integrated representations of distance and angle. Instead, young children flexibly recruited geometric representations of either navigable layouts or objects to interpret the same spatial symbols. These findings reveal a link between the early-arising geometric representations that humans share with diverse animals and the flexible geometric intuitions that give rise to human knowledge at its highest reaches. Although young children do not appear to integrate core geometric representations, children's use of the abstract geometry in spatial symbols such as maps may provide the earliest clues to the later construction of Euclidean geometry.
Project description:Due to the technological advances in recent years, paper scientific documents are used less and less. Thus, the trend in the scientific community to use digital documents has increased considerably. Among these documents, there are scientific documents and more specifically mathematics documents. In this context, we present our own dataset of handwritten mathematical symbols composed of 10,379 images. This dataset gathers Arabic characters, Latin characters, Arabic numerals, Latin numerals, arithmetic operators, set-symbols, comparison symbols, delimiters, etc.
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: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: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:Early number skills underlie success in basic arithmetic. However, very little is known about the skill profiles among children in preprimary education and how the potential profiles are related to arithmetic development. This longitudinal study of 440 Finnish children in preprimary education (mean age: 75 months) modeled latent performance-level profile groups for the early number skill components that are proposed to be key predictors of arithmetic (symbolic number comparison, mapping, and verbal counting skills). Based on three assessment time points (September, January, and May), four profile groups were found: the poorest-performing (6%), low-performing (16%), near-average-performing (33%), and high-average-performing children (45%). Although the differences between the groups were statistically significant in all three number skill components and in basic arithmetic, the poorest-performing children seemed to have serious difficulties in accessing the semantic meaning of symbolic numbers that was required in the number comparison and mapping tasks in this study. Interestingly, the tasks demanding processing between quantities and symbols also most differentiated the poorest-performing children from the low-performing children. Due to remarkable and stable individual differences in early number skill components, the findings suggest systematic support and progress monitoring practices in preeducational settings to diminish and avoid potential difficulties in arithmetic and mathematics in general.
Project description:Most research investigating how the cognitive system deals with arithmetic has focused on the processing of two addends. Arithmetic that involves more addends has specific cognitive demands such as the need to compute and hold the intermediate sum. This study examines the intermediate sums activations in intentional and automatic calculations. Experiment 1 included addition problems containing three operands. Participants were asked to calculate the sum and to remember the digits that appeared in the problem. The results revealed an interference effect in which it was hard to identify that the digit representing the intermediate sum was not actually one of the operands. Experiment 2, further examined if the intermediate sum is activated automatically when a task does not require calculation. Here, participants were presented with a prime of an addition problem followed by a target number. The task was to determine whether the target number is odd or even, while ignoring the addition problem in the prime. The results suggested that the intermediate sum of the addition problem in the prime was activated automatically and facilitated the target. Overall, the implications of those findings in the context of theories that relate to cognitive mathematical calculation is further discussed.
Project description:Now, more than ever, the ability to acquire mathematical skills efficiently is critical for academic and professional success, yet little is known about the behavioral and neural mechanisms that drive some children to acquire these skills faster than others. Here we investigate the behavioral and neural predictors of individual differences in arithmetic skill acquisition in response to 8-wk of one-to-one math tutoring. Twenty-four children in grade 3 (ages 8-9 y), a critical period for acquisition of basic mathematical skills, underwent structural and resting-state functional MRI scans pretutoring. A significant shift in arithmetic problem-solving strategies from counting to fact retrieval was observed with tutoring. Notably, the speed and accuracy of arithmetic problem solving increased with tutoring, with some children improving significantly more than others. Next, we examined whether pretutoring behavioral and brain measures could predict individual differences in arithmetic performance improvements with tutoring. No behavioral measures, including intelligence quotient, working memory, or mathematical abilities, predicted performance improvements. In contrast, pretutoring hippocampal volume predicted performance improvements. Furthermore, pretutoring intrinsic functional connectivity of the hippocampus with dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal cortices and the basal ganglia also predicted performance improvements. Our findings provide evidence that individual differences in morphometry and connectivity of brain regions associated with learning and memory, and not regions typically involved in arithmetic processing, are strong predictors of responsiveness to math tutoring in children. More generally, our study suggests that quantitative measures of brain structure and intrinsic brain organization can provide a more sensitive marker of skill acquisition than behavioral measures.
Project description:The nature of the relation between non-symbolic and symbolic magnitude processing in the prediction of arithmetic remains a hotly debated subject. This longitudinal study examined whether the influence of non-symbolic magnitude processing on arithmetic is mediated by symbolic processing skills. A sample of 130 children with age-adequate (N = 73) or below-average (N = 57) achievement in early arithmetic was followed from the end of Grade 1 (mean age: 86.9 months) through the beginning of Grade 4. Symbolic comparison of one- and two-digit numbers serially mediated the effect of non-symbolic comparison on later arithmetic. These results support a developmental model in which non-symbolic processing provides a scaffold for single-digit processing, which in turn influences multi-digit processing and arithmetic. In conclusion, both non-symbolic and symbolic processing play an important role in the development of arithmetic during primary school and might be valuable long-term indicators for the early identification of children at risk for low achievement in arithmetic.