Learning complex arithmetic--an fMRI study

Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2003 Dec;18(1):76-88. doi: 10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2003.09.005.


Aim of the present functional magnet resonance imaging (fMRI) study was to detect modifications of cerebral activation patterns related to learning arithmetic. Thirteen right-handed subjects were extensively trained on a set of 18 complex multiplication problems. In the following fMRI session, trained and untrained problems (closely matched for difficulty) were presented in blocked order alternating with a number matching task and a fact retrieval task. Importantly, left hemispheric activations were dominant in the two contrasts between untrained and trained condition, suggesting that learning processes in arithmetic are predominantly supported by the left hemisphere. Contrasting untrained versus trained condition, the left intraparietal sulcus showed significant activations, as well as the inferior parietal lobule. A further significant activation was found in the left inferior frontal gyrus. This activation may be accounted for by higher working memory demands in the untrained as compared to the trained condition. Contrasting trained versus untrained condition a significant focus of activation was found in the left angular gyrus. Following the triple-code model [Science 284 (1999) 970], the shift of activation within the parietal lobe from the intraparietal sulcus to the left angular gyrus suggests a modification from quantity-based processing to more automatic retrieval. The present study shows that the left angular gyrus is not only involved in arithmetic tasks requiring simple fact retrieval, but may show significant activations as a result of relatively short training of complex calculation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric