Individual Differences in Mathematical Competence Predict Parietal Brain Activation During Mental Calculation

Neuroimage. 2007 Nov 1;38(2):346-56. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.07.041. Epub 2007 Aug 11.


Functional neuroimaging studies have revealed that parietal brain circuits subserve arithmetic problem solving and that their recruitment dynamically changes as a function of training and development. The present study investigated whether the brain activation during mental calculation is also modulated by individual differences in mathematical competence. Twenty-five adult students were selected from a larger pool based on their performance on standardized tests of intelligence and arithmetic and divided into groups of individuals with relatively lower and higher mathematical competence. These groups did not differ in their non-numerical intelligence or age. In an fMRI block-design, participants had to verify the correctness of single-digit and multi-digit multiplication problems. Analyses revealed that the individuals with higher mathematical competence displayed stronger activation of the left angular gyrus while solving both types of arithmetic problems. Additional correlational analyses corroborated the association between individual differences in mathematical competence and angular gyrus activation, even when variability in task performance was controlled for. These findings demonstrate that the recruitment of the left angular gyrus during arithmetic problem solving underlies individual differences in mathematical ability and suggests a stronger reliance on automatic, language-mediated processes in more competent individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Language
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Mental Competency*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Personality