Mathematical ability is essential for almost every aspect of human existence and yet there is large variability in math competency in adults and extremely poor math ability is linked with long-term health problems and higher criminality (Parsons and Bynner, 2005). Math skills at school-entry predict later math achievement and are a better predictor of later overall academic achievement than literacy skills (Jordan, et al., 2009; Duncan et al., 2007). Therefore improving early math skills in very young children could have global effects on academic success and perhaps life outcomes. The goal of this proposal is to build upon a recent finding from our research group demonstrating that training with approximate nonsymbolic arithmetic (ApprA) using dot arrays leads to positive transfer in exact symbolic arithmetic (SymA) performance (Park and Brannon, In press).
In Aim 1 we ask why ApprA training improves SymA. We decompose the cognitive ingredients of ApprA training to assess which aspects are critical for improving symbolic arithmetic.
In Aim 2 we test specific predictions about how overlap in the brain regions that support approximate nonsymbolic arithmetic and exact symbolic arithmetic give rise to this transfer effect. For example, we ask whether ApprA training changes the neural tuning curves in the intraparietal sulcus, which are known to embody the mental representation of quantity. Such a finding would provide strong evidence that ApprA improves SymA by changing the primitive number sense. Finally Aim 3 proposes an iPad intervention study in a diverse public school district to test the efficacy of ApprA training to improve SymA in young children. Pilot data is presented for all three aims. Understanding the relationship between ApprA and SymA could have broad implications for understanding the roots of human mathematics. While ApprA training is unlikely to be practically useful as an avenue for improving math competency in adults or older children who have mastered the symbolic number system it could be critically important for improving math ability in very young children who have yet to master the symbolic number system.

Public Health Relevance

The broad goal of this proposal is to understand the relationship between primitive number sense, which is shared by animals and emerges early in human development, and the uniquely human capacity for symbolic arithmetic which emerges later in development. The three aims are dedicated to uncovering the mechanism by which approximate nonsymbolic arithmetic (ApprA) training enhances exact symbolic arithmetic (SymA), using behavioral studies (Aim 1) and fMRI (Aim 2) in adults, and an iPad intervention study in a diverse public school district to assess the efficacy of AA training for improving schoo readiness (Aim 3). Math skills at school entry are known to be an important predictor of later academic success indicating that early interventions that improve school readiness and math ability should have enormous impact.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Mann Koepke, Kathy M
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Duke University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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DeWind, Nicholas K; Park, Joonkoo; Woldorff, Marty G et al. (2018) Numerical encoding in early visual cortex. Cortex :
Szkudlarek, Emily; Brannon, Elizabeth M (2017) Does the approximate number system serve as a foundation for symbolic mathematics? Lang Learn Dev 13:171-190
DeWind, Nicholas K; Brannon, Elizabeth M (2016) Significant Inter-Test Reliability across Approximate Number System Assessments. Front Psychol 7:310
Park, Joonkoo; Brannon, Elizabeth M (2016) How to interpret cognitive training studies: A reply to Lindskog & Winman. Cognition 150:247-51
Bugden, Stephanie; DeWind, Nicholas K; Brannon, Elizabeth M (2016) Using cognitive training studies to unravel the mechanisms by which the approximate number system supports symbolic math ability. Curr Opin Behav Sci 10:73-80
Park, Joonkoo; Bermudez, Vanessa; Roberts, Rachel C et al. (2016) Non-symbolic approximate arithmetic training improves math performance in preschoolers. J Exp Child Psychol 152:278-293
Park, Joonkoo; Brannon, Elizabeth M (2014) Improving arithmetic performance with number sense training: an investigation of underlying mechanism. Cognition 133:188-200