The maturation of mathematical reasoning skills is a hallmark of human cognitive development. Mathematical cognition, and more specifically, mental arithmetic (MA), provides a foundation for the development of analytical skills. Mathematical difficulties are widespread in school-age children and college students. Cognitive, developmental and educational psychologists have provided valuable insights into the complex and dynamic developmental changes in MA skills. However, little is known about the development of brain systems underlying these changes, and even less is known about the neural substrates of MA skill deficits in children with mathematical disabilities (MD). The overarching goal of our proposal is to investigate the neural basis of MD using state-of-the-art functional brain imaging techniques. The ability to quickly and accurately retrieve basic arithmetic facts is one of the most consistent deficits in children with MD. We therefore propose to investigate the neural basis of deficits in basic mental arithmetic (MA) operations, emphasizing the cognitive mechanisms differentially invoked by each operation. We will use a prospective longitudinal design to elucidate (i) the neural basis of deficits in MA skills, and (ii) the developmental trajectory of these deficits in children over a one year period between the 2nd grade (Time 1) and the 3rd grade (Time 2). For the first time, the proposed longitudinal study designs will allow us to assess (1) intra and inter-subject variability and stability of brain activation in relation to MA performance changes, and (2) specific classes of neurodevelopmental changes (poor vs. normal development). Our proposed studies will provide new insights into the neural basis of deficits in mathematical abilities, and how the increased recruitment of specialized MA processing networks with development is altered in children with MD. Our studies will also contribute new information on typical and atypical development of mathematical cognition, as well as the neural basis of individual differences in mathematical abilities. By providing essential knowledge about the neurobiological substrates of mathematical difficulties in children, and how they change with time, we will be able to inform the development of behavioral and educational strategies that may help improve children's mathematical skills at an early age.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BBBP-A (03))
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Berch, Daniel B
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Stanford University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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