Attention to Number: A neurocognitive foundation for mathematical competence
Wilkey, Eric Daniel
A significant body of research has indicated that acuity of the neurocognitive system used to represent numerical magnitudes, often referred to as the approximate number system (ANS), serves a foundational role in the development of mathematical competence. Further, both behavioral and neuroimaging evidence supports the notion that the ANS is impaired in individuals with specific math learning disability. However, recent studies have found that the most common task used to measure ANS acuity, the nonsymbolic number comparison task, is heavily influenced by non-numerical visual parameters of task stimuli that increase executive function demands during the task. As a result, the influence of visual parameters may be a confound invalidating theoretical accounts of the relation between the number comparison task and ANS theory and their relation to mathematical competence. The present collection of three studies investigated the neurocognitive mechanisms associated with ANS acuity, executive function, and attention to number through a large-scale, longitudinal behavioral study (Study 1) and neuroimaging studies of high school students (Study 2) and early elementary students (Study 3). They provide little evidence that individual differences in ANS acuity relate to math competence. Instead, they demonstrate that attention to number, which can be described as the dynamic interplay of executive function and magnitude processing mechanisms, is a foundation of math competence appearing at least as early as second grade and having a measurable relation to mathematics achievement through middle and high school.