Saturday, December 17, 2016
Math Difficulties May Reflect Problems in a Crucial Learning System in the Brain - NEUROSCIENCE
Children differ substantially in their mathematical abilities. In fact, some children cannot routinely add or subtract, even after extensive schooling. Yet the causes of these problems are not fully understood. Now, two researchers, at Georgetown University Medical Center and Stanford University, have developed a theory of how developmental “math disability” occurs.
The article, in a special issue on reading and math in Frontiers in Psychology, proposes that math disability arises from abnormalities in brain areas supporting procedural memory. Procedural memory is a learning and memory system that is crucial for the automatization of non-conscious skills, such as driving or grammar. It depends on a network of brain structures, including the basal ganglia and regions in the frontal and parietal lobes.
The procedural memory system has previously been implicated in other developmental disorders, such as dyslexia and developmental language disorder, say the study’s senior researcher, Michael T. Ullman, PhD, professor of neuroscience at Georgetown.
“Given that the development of math skills involves their automatization, it makes sense that the dysfunction of procedural memory could lead to math disability. In fact, aspects of math that tend to be automatized, such as arithmetic, are problematic in children with math disability. Moreover, since these children often also have dyslexia or developmental language disorder, the disorders may share causal mechanisms,” he says.