Strategy over operation: neural activation in subtraction and multiplication during fact retrieval and procedural strategy use in children

Activation neuronale lors de soustractions et multiplications dans des tâches demandant l'utilisation de stratégies procédurales et de récupération en mémoire chez des enfant


Polspoel, B., Peters, L., Vandermosten, M., & De Smedt, B. (2017). Strategy over operation: Neural activation in subtraction and multiplication during fact retrieval and procedural strategy use in children. Human Brain Mapping.

DOI: 10.1002/hbm.23691

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Arithmetic development is characterized by strategy shifts between procedural strategy use and fact retrieval. This study is the first to explicitly investigate children's neural activation associated with the use of these different strategies. Participants were 26 typically developing 4th graders (9- to 10-year-olds), who, in a behavioral session, were asked to verbally report on a trial-by-trial basis how they had solved 100 subtraction and multiplication items. These items were subsequently presented during functional magnetic resonance imaging. An event-related design allowed us to analyze the brain responses during retrieval and procedural trials, based on the children's verbal reports. During procedural strategy use, and more specifically for the decomposition of operands strategy, activation increases were observed in the inferior and superior parietal lobes (intraparietal sulci), inferior to superior frontal gyri, bilateral areas in the occipital lobe, and insular cortex. For retrieval, in comparison to procedural strategy use, we observed increased activity in the bilateral angular and supramarginal gyri, left middle to inferior temporal gyrus, right superior temporal gyrus, and superior medial frontal gyrus. No neural differences were found between the two operations under study. These results are the first in children to provide direct evidence for alternate neural activation when different arithmetic strategies are used and further unravel that previously found effects of operation on brain activity reflect differences in arithmetic strategy use.