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. 2015 Aug;16(8):661-71.
doi: 10.1631/jzus.B1400287.

Numerical Magnitude Processing in Abacus-Trained Children With Superior Mathematical Ability: An EEG Study

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Numerical Magnitude Processing in Abacus-Trained Children With Superior Mathematical Ability: An EEG Study

Jian Huang et al. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Distance effect has been regarded as the best established marker of basic numerical magnitude processes and is related to individual mathematical abilities. A larger behavioral distance effect is suggested to be concomitant with lower mathematical achievement in children. However, the relationship between distance effect and superior mathematical abilities is unclear. One could get superior mathematical abilities by acquiring the skill of abacus-based mental calculation (AMC), which can be used to solve calculation problems with exceptional speed and high accuracy. In the current study, we explore the relationship between distance effect and superior mathematical abilities by examining whether and how the AMC training modifies numerical magnitude processing. Thus, mathematical competencies were tested in 18 abacus-trained children (who accepted the AMC training) and 18 non-trained children. Electroencephalography (EEG) waveforms were recorded when these children executed numerical comparison tasks in both Arabic digit and dot array forms. We found that: (a) the abacus-trained group had superior mathematical abilities than their peers; (b) distance effects were found both in behavioral results and on EEG waveforms; (c) the distance effect size of the average amplitude on the late negative-going component was different between groups in the digit task, with a larger effect size for abacus-trained children; (d) both the behavioral and EEG distance effects were modulated by the notation. These results revealed that the neural substrates of magnitude processing were modified by AMC training, and suggested that the mechanism of the representation of numerical magnitude for children with superior mathematical abilities was different from their peers. In addition, the results provide evidence for a view of non-abstract numerical representation.

Keywords: Abacus training; Child; Distance effect; Electroencephalography (EEG); Numerical magnitude processing.

Conflict of interest statement

Compliance with ethics guidelines: Jian HUANG, Feng-lei DU, Yuan YAO, Qun WAN, Xiao-song WANG, and Fei-yan CHEN declare that they have no conflict of interest.

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2008 (5). Informed consent was obtained from all subjects for being included in the study.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Abacus addition procedure and behavioral results of distance effect (DE) in all conditions (a) An addition example on the abacus (9+7=16). The left abacus schematic represents the number 9 (one heaven bead equals to 5 and 4 earth beads equal to 4). The middle abacus schematic represents the addition procedure: subtract the complement of the addend to 10 (3 here) by pushing down the 3 yellow beads (near the blue arrow) with the index finger, then add 1 to the tens column by pushing up the yellow bead (near the red arrow) with the thumb. The right abacus schematic represents the result. (b) Behavioral results show decreasing reaction time (RT) for increasing numerical distance in two notations (Arabic digits and dot digits) in both groups. Data are expressed as mean (standard deviation), with n=18. * p<0.001, vs. close (Note: for interpretation of the references to color in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article)
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Grand average and subtraction waveforms for the non-trained and abacus-trained groups in the digit task (a) Grand average waveforms of close distance and far distance for the non-trained group in the digit task on PO7 and PO8; (b) Grand average waveforms of close distance and far distance for the abacus-trained group in the digit task on PO7 and PO8; (c) Subtraction waveforms of the abacus-trained and non-trained groups in the digit task on PO7 and PO8

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