The current study investigated the influence of cardiorespiratory fitness on arithmetic cognition in forty 9-10 year old children. Measures included a standardized mathematics achievement test to assess conceptual and computational knowledge, self-reported strategy selection, and an experimental arithmetic verification task (including small and large addition problems), which afforded the measurement of event-related brain potentials (ERPs). No differences in math achievement were observed as a function of fitness level, but all children performed better on math concepts relative to math computation. Higher fit children reported using retrieval more often to solve large arithmetic problems, relative to lower fit children. During the arithmetic verification task, higher fit children exhibited superior performance for large problems, as evidenced by greater d' scores, while all children exhibited decreased accuracy and longer reaction time for large relative to small problems, and incorrect relative to correct solutions. On the electrophysiological level, modulations of early (P1, N170) and late ERP components (P3, N400) were observed as a function of problem size and solution correctness. Higher fit children exhibited selective modulations for N170, P3, and N400 amplitude relative to lower fit children, suggesting that fitness influences symbolic encoding, attentional resource allocation and semantic processing during arithmetic tasks. The current study contributes to the fitness-cognition literature by demonstrating that the benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness extend to arithmetic cognition, which has important implications for the educational environment and the context of learning.
Keywords: ERPs; addition; mathematics; pediatric-cognition; strategy.