Mathematical skills are of critical importance, both academically and in everyday life. Neuroimaging research has primarily focused on the relationship between mathematical skills and functional brain activity. Comparatively few studies have examined which white matter regions support mathematical abilities. The current study uses diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to test whether individual differences in white matter predict performance on the math subtest of the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT). Grades 10 and 11 PSAT scores were obtained from 30 young adults (ages 17-18) with wide-ranging math achievement levels. Tract based spatial statistics was used to examine the correlation between PSAT math scores, fractional anisotropy (FA), radial diffusivity (RD) and axial diffusivity (AD). FA in left parietal white matter was positively correlated with math PSAT scores (specifically in the left superior longitudinal fasciculus, left superior corona radiata, and left corticospinal tract) after controlling for chronological age and same grade PSAT critical reading scores. Furthermore, RD, but not AD, was correlated with PSAT math scores in these white matter microstructures. The negative correlation with RD further suggests that participants with higher PSAT math scores have greater white matter integrity in this region. Individual differences in FA and RD may reflect variability in experience dependent plasticity over the course of learning and development. These results are the first to demonstrate that individual differences in white matter are associated with mathematical abilities on a nationally administered scholastic aptitude measure.
Keywords: Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI); Fractional anisotropy (FA); Mathematical cognition; Radial diffusivity (RD); Tract based spatial statistics (TBSS); White matter.
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