Brain areas associated with numbers and calculations in children: Meta-analyses of fMRI studies

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2018 Apr:30:239-250. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2017.08.002. Epub 2017 Aug 8.


Children use numbers every day and typically receive formal mathematical training from an early age, as it is a main subject in school curricula. Despite an increase in children neuroimaging studies, a comprehensive neuropsychological model of mathematical functions in children is lacking. Using quantitative meta-analyses of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies, we identify concordant brain areas across articles that adhere to a set of selection criteria (e.g., whole-brain analysis, coordinate reports) and report brain activity to tasks that involve processing symbolic and non-symbolic numbers with and without formal mathematical operations, which we called respectively number tasks and calculation tasks. We present data on children 14 years and younger, who solved these tasks. Results show activity in parietal (e.g., inferior parietal lobule and precuneus) and frontal (e.g., superior and medial frontal gyri) cortices, core areas related to mental-arithmetic, as well as brain regions such as the insula and claustrum, which are not typically discussed as part of mathematical problem solving models. We propose a topographical atlas of mathematical processes in children, discuss findings within a developmental constructivist theoretical model, and suggest practical methodological considerations for future studies.

Keywords: Children; Development; Insula; Mathematical cognition; Meta-analyses; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Mathematics / methods*
  • Young Adult