Mental abacus (MA) is a technique of performing fast, accurate arithmetic using a mental image of an abacus; experts exhibit astonishing calculation abilities. Over 3 years, 204 elementary school students (age range at outset: 5-7 years old) participated in a randomized, controlled trial to test whether MA expertise (a) can be acquired in standard classroom settings, (b) improves students' mathematical abilities (beyond standard math curricula), and (c) is related to changes in basic cognitive capacities like working memory. MA students outperformed controls on arithmetic tasks, suggesting that MA expertise can be achieved by children in standard classrooms. MA training did not alter basic cognitive abilities; instead, differences in spatial working memory at the beginning of the study mediated MA learning.
© 2016 The Authors. Child Development © 2016 Society for Research in Child Development, Inc.