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Early cortical surface plasticity relates to basic mathematical learning

: Kuhl, Ulrike; Friederici, Angela D.; Skeide, Michael A.; Emmrich, Frank; Brauer, Jens; Wilcke, Arndt; Neef, Nicole; Boltze, Johannes; Kirsten, Holger; Schaadt, Gesa; Müller, Bent; Kraft, Indra; Czepezauer, Ivonne; Dörr, Liane

Fulltext ()

NeuroImage 204 (2020), Art. 116235, 9 pp.
ISSN: 1053-8119
ISSN: 1095-9572
Journal Article, Electronic Publication
Fraunhofer IZI ()
mathematical learning; visuospatial quantity processing; arithmetic; parietal cortex; brain development; gray matter

Children lay the foundation for later academic achievement by acquiring core mathematical abilities in the first school years. Neural reorganization processes associated with individual differences in early mathematical learning, however, are still poorly understood. To fill this research gap, we followed a sample of 5-6-year-oldchildren longitudinally to the end of second grade in school (age 7–8 years) combining magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with comprehensive behavioral assessments. We report significant links between the rate of neuroplastic change of cortical surface anatomy, and children's early mathematical skills. In particular, most of the behavioral variance (about 73%) of children's visuospatial abilities was explained by the change in cortical thickness in the right superior parietal cortex. Moreover, half of the behavioral variance (about 55%) of children's arithmetic abilities was explained by the change in cortical folding in the right intraparietal sulcus. Additional associations for arithmetic abilities were found for cortical thickness change of the right temporal lobe, and the left middle occipital gyrus. Visuospatial abilities were related to right precentral and supramarginal thickness, as well as right medial frontal gyrus folding plasticity. These effects were independent of other individual differences in IQ, literacy and maternal education. Our findings highlight the critical role of cortical plasticity during the acquisition of fundamental mathematical abilities.