Number sense

number-sense-portrait Winter 2016

Take a group of 8-year-olds. Give them a set of standardized tests, as well as brain MRI scans. Which one better predicts their math ability at age 14?

The brain scans, say researchers from the School of Medicine. In a longitudinal study of 43 children, the team administered structural and functional MRI scans to measure brain structure and intrinsic functional connection between regions as well as tests to assess IQ, reading, math and working memory.

The children who had greater volume and connectivity of two brain regions, the ventrotemporal occipital cortex and the intra-parietal sulcus, as well as stronger connections between those regions and the prefrontal cortex, had greater gains in mathematical ability. Their test scores at age 8 did not predict their later learning ability in math.

“A long-term goal of this research is to identify children who might benefit most from targeted math intervention at an early age,” says senior author Vinod Menon, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Postdoctoral scholar Tanya Evans, PhD, is the lead author of the study, published in August in The Journal of Neuroscience.