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J Exp Child Psychol. 2013 Feb;114(2):243-61. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2012.10.005. Epub 2012 Nov 17.

The role of executive attention in the acquisition of mathematical skills for children in Grades 2 through 4.

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Department of Psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1S 5B6.


We examined the role of executive attention, which encompasses the common aspects of executive function and executive working memory, in children's acquisition of two aspects of mathematical skill: (a) knowledge of the number system (e.g., place value) and of arithmetic procedures (e.g., multi-digit addition) and (b) arithmetic fluency (i.e., speed of solutions to simple equations such as 3+4 and 8-5). Children in Grades 2 and 3 (N=157) completed executive attention and mathematical tasks. They repeated the mathematical tasks 1 year later. We used structural equation modeling to examine the relations between executive attention and (a) concurrent measures of mathematical knowledge and arithmetic fluency and (b) growth in performance on these measures 1 year later. Executive attention was concurrently predictive of both knowledge and fluency but predicted growth in performance only for fluency. A composite language measure predicted growth in knowledge from Grade 2 to Grade 3. The results support an important role for executive attention in children's acquisition of novel procedures and the development of automatic access to arithmetic facts.

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