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Eur J Neurosci. 2019 Jan 31. doi: 10.1111/ejn.14363. [Epub ahead of print]

Electrophysiological markers of poor versus superior math abilities in healthy individuals.

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Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy.
Neuro-Mi- Milan Center for Neuroscience, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy.


Interindividual differences in the numerical ability of healthy adults have been previously demonstrated, mainly with tasks involving mental number line or size representation. However, electrophysiological correlates of superior versus poor arithmetic ability (in the healthy population) have been scarcely investigated. We correlated electric potentials with math performance in 13 skilled and 13 poor calculators selected from a sample of 41 graduate students on the basis of their poor or superior math abilities assessed through a timed test. EEG was recorded from 128 channels while participants solved 352 arithmetical operations (additions, subtractions, multiplications, divisions) and decided whether the provided solution was correct or incorrect. Overall skilled individuals correctly solved a higher number of operations than poor calculators and had faster response times. Consistently, the latency of fronto-central P300 component of event-related potentials (ERPs) peaked earlier in the skilled than poor group. The P300 was larger in amplitude to correct than incorrect solutions, but just in the skilled group, with a tendency found in poor calculators. Spearman's ρ correlation coefficient analyses showed that the larger P300 response was to correct arithmetic solutions, the better the performance; conversely, the larger the P300 amplitude was to incorrect solutions, the worse the performance. The results suggest that poor calculators had a less clear representation of arithmetic solutions and difficulty in quickly accessing it. This study provides a standard method for directly investigating math abilities throughout ERP recordings that could be useful for assessing acalculia/dyscalculia in the clinical population (children, elderly, brain-damaged patients).


Dyscalculia; P300; arithmetic processing; event-related potentials; individual differences; number; skills


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