Neuroscience study reveals new link between basic math skills and PSAT math success

January 4, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—New research from Western University provides brain imaging evidence that students well-versed in very basic single digit arithmetic (5+2=7 or 7-3=4) are better equipped to score higher on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), an examination sat by millions of students in the United States each year in preparation for college admission tests.
 
In findings published today in The Journal of Neuroscience (www.jneurosci.org/content/33/1.abstract.pdf) research led by Daniel Ansari, Associate Professor in Western's Department of Psychology and a principal investigator at the Brain and Mind Institute, showed by utilizing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on high school seniors that there was a significant link between their brain responses while solving extremely basic, single digit calculation problems and standard scores on the PSAT.

"The surprising thing here is that we found both a positive and negative relationship between during the very elementary, single digit arithmetic tasks and how well they did on the PSAT test, which measures advanced, high school level math skills," says Ansari, Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.

Students that scored better on the PSAT math tests generated greater positive activation in a brain region in the left side of the brain, called the supramarginal gyrus, which is known to be linked to fact retrieval, while students that scored lower, produced more activity in an area in the right side of the brain, called the intraparietal sulcus, which is involved in quantity processing and more effortful problem solving.

"Essentially, this means that those high school students that don't do so well on the PSAT use more problem solving strategies when they are doing very elementary sums and subtractions," offers Ansari. "If you are a high school student and you are using that we know are associated with fact retrieval and fluency, we see evidence that you are also going to score better on the math portion of the college admission test. There is a clear link between fluency and high level abilities – being fluent at basic math counts." 

This new knowledge is important from a math education perspective, concludes Ansari, because traditionally, debate rages between the "drill and kill" style approach versus more conceptual, problem-solving based pedagogy, but it is now clear that both methods are important in elementary education. These findings suggest that the way in which the is organized for single digit arithmetic calculation predicts performance on more complex math skills, illustrating the critical role that arithmetic fluency plays in building mathematical proficiency among students.

Given that the evidence is correlational, future studies following children from early elementary school through to high school will be needed to shed light on the specific ways in which acquisition of basic arithmetic fluency influences the learning of the kinds of skills tested by the PSAT.

Explore further: Psychology study finds key early skills for later math learning

Related Stories

Psychology study finds key early skills for later math learning

July 11, 2011
Psychologists at the University of Missouri have identified the beginning of first grade math skills that teachers and parents should target to effectively improve children's later math learning.

How early math lessons change children's brains

June 7, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have demonstrated that a single year of math lessons is associated with unexpectedly big changes in the brain’s approach to problem solving ...

Math ability requires crosstalk in the brain

August 29, 2012
A new study by researchers at UT Dallas' Center for Vital Longevity, Duke University, and the University of Michigan has found that the strength of communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain predicts ...

Don't get math? Researchers home in on the brain's problem

October 5, 2011
Can't calculate a tip or even balance your checkbook? Take heart; maybe you can blame your brain - specifically, the parietal cortex in the top back part of the head. And it could be a problem that has roots not in a failed ...

Recommended for you

In witnessing the brain's 'aha!' moment, scientists shed light on biology of consciousness

July 27, 2017
Columbia scientists have identified the brain's 'aha!' moment—that flash in time when you suddenly become aware of information, such as knowing the answer to a difficult question. Today's findings in humans, combined with ...

Scientists block evolution's molecular nerve pruning in rodents

July 27, 2017
Researchers investigating why some people suffer from motor disabilities report they may have dialed back evolution's clock a few ticks by blocking molecular pruning of sophisticated brain-to-limb nerve connections in maturing ...

Social influences can override aggression in male mice, study shows

July 27, 2017
Stanford University School of Medicine investigators have identified a cluster of nerve cells in the male mouse's brain that, when activated, triggers territorial rage in a variety of situations. Activating the same cluster ...

Scientists become research subjects in after-hours brain-scanning project

July 27, 2017
A quest to analyze the unique features of individual human brains evolved into the so-called Midnight Scan Club, a group of scientists who had big ideas but almost no funding and little time to research the trillions of neural ...

Researchers reveal unusual chemistry of protein with role in neurodegenerative disorders

July 27, 2017
A common feature of neurodegenerative diseases is the formation of permanent tangles of insoluble proteins in cells. The beta-amyloid plaques found in people with Alzheimer's disease and the inclusion bodies in motor neurons ...

Mother's brain reward response to offspring reduced by substance addiction

July 27, 2017
Maternal addiction and its effects on children is a major public health problem, often leading to high rates of child abuse, neglect and foster care placement. In a study published today in the journal Human Brain Mapping, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.