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Front Psychol. 2017 Jul 11;8:1175. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01175. eCollection 2017.

Deficits in Approximate Number System Acuity and Mathematical Abilities in 6.5-Year-Old Children Born Extremely Preterm.

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Department of Psychology, Learning Research and Development Center, University of PittsburghPittsburgh, PA, United States.
Department of Women's and Children's Health, Karolinska InstitutetStockholm, Sweden.
Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska InstitutetStockholm, Sweden.


Preterm children are at increased risk for poor academic achievement, especially in math. In the present study, we examined whether preterm children differ from term-born children in their intuitive sense of number that relies on an unlearned, approximate number system (ANS) and whether there is a link between preterm children's ANS acuity and their math abilities. To this end, 6.5-year-old extremely preterm (i.e., <27 weeks gestation, n = 82) and term-born children (n = 89) completed a non-symbolic number comparison (ANS acuity) task and a standardized math test. We found that extremely preterm children had significantly lower ANS acuity than term-born children and that these differences could not be fully explained by differences in verbal IQ, perceptual reasoning skills, working memory, or attention. Differences in ANS acuity persisted even when demands on visuo-spatial skills and attention were reduced in the ANS task. Finally, we found that ANS acuity and math ability are linked in extremely preterm children, similar to previous results from term-born children. These results suggest that deficits in the ANS may be at least partly responsible for the deficits in math abilities often observed in extremely preterm children.


approximate number system; attention; extreme preterm birth; math ability; preterm children; visuo-spatial skills

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