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Understanding the Neural Basis of Math Competence in Both Children and Adults

Ren, Xueying (2024) Understanding the Neural Basis of Math Competence in Both Children and Adults. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Developing math skills at an early age is important, as it lays the foundation for acquiring advanced quantitative abilities and success in modern society. However, substantial individual differences in math performance and learning abilities exist, and the neural bases for these differences remain unclear. To address this gap, in my dissertation, I collected functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from 104 adults (mean age = 23.25 years) and 88 children (mean age = 9.75 years) to localize brain regions activated during number comparisons of different numerical formats compared to phonological comparisons of the same stimuli. I identified two sets of brain regions: a conservative set (Tier 1 regions) that consistently emerged in both children and adults in univariate and conjunction analyses, and a broad set (Tier 2 regions) of additional distinct brain regions beyond Tier 1, that emerged from a peak-finding algorithm applied to the averaged statistical activation maps from both children and adults. Tier 1 regions included the left inferior occipital gyrus, the right inferior parietal cortex, and the right intraparietal sulcus. Tier 2 regions comprised the left fusiform gyrus, the right inferior/middle occipital gyrus, and the left middle occipital gyrus. I then calculated the mean functional connectivity for each tier and between tiers separately for adults and children and conducted Pearson correlations to assess the relations between the brain connectivity and math abilities measured the math subtests of the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement. For adults, there was a significant positive correlation between average Tier 2 connectivity and math abilities, indicating that stronger connectivity within visual processing areas is associated with better math skills in adults. Interestingly, for children, there were significant negative correlations between average Tier 1 and between-tier connectivity, and math abilities. In other words, children with weaker connections between visual processing areas and parietal regions show greater math abilities. These analyses offer a comprehensive understanding of the neural underpinnings of math competence and highlight the importance of exploring a broader set of brain regions and their connectivity.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Ren, Xueyingxur1@pitt.eduxur1
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLibertus,
Committee MemberFiez,
Committee MemberCoutanche,
Committee MemberPrice,
Date: 13 May 2024
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 28 March 2024
Approval Date: 13 May 2024
Submission Date: 3 April 2024
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 109
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Math, Functional Connectivity, Children, Adults, fMRI
Date Deposited: 13 May 2024 13:56
Last Modified: 13 May 2024 13:56

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