Developmental changes in mental arithmetic: evidence for increased functional specialization in the left inferior parietal cortex

Cereb Cortex. 2005 Nov;15(11):1779-90. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhi055. Epub 2005 Feb 16.


Arithmetic reasoning is arguably one of the most important cognitive skills a child must master. Here we examine neurodevelopmental changes in mental arithmetic. Subjects (ages 8-19 years) viewed arithmetic equations and were asked to judge whether the results were correct or incorrect. During two-operand addition or subtraction trials, for which accuracy was comparable across age, older subjects showed greater activation in the left parietal cortex, along the supramarginal gyrus and adjoining anterior intra-parietal sulcus as well as the left lateral occipital temporal cortex. These age-related changes were not associated with alterations in gray matter density, and provide novel evidence for increased functional maturation with age. By contrast, younger subjects showed greater activation in the prefrontal cortex, including the dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex, suggesting that they require comparatively more working memory and attentional resources to achieve similar levels of mental arithmetic performance. Younger subjects also showed greater activation of the hippocampus and dorsal basal ganglia, reflecting the greater demands placed on both declarative and procedural memory systems. Our findings provide evidence for a process of increased functional specialization of the left inferior parietal cortex in mental arithmetic, a process that is accompanied by decreased dependence on memory and attentional resources with development.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*