Multimodal imaging of parietal brain networks in adults and children with developmental dyscalculia

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Psychology

Abstract

It is estimated that 3-6% of children and adults have Developmental Dyscalculia (DD). Impaired mathematical skills have a considerable cost to the individual. For example, the recent Government Office for Science Foresight project Mental Capital and Wellbeing (2008) estimated that having developmental dyscalculia reduced lifetime earnings by #114,000 and reduced the probability of achieving 5 or more GCSEs (A*-C) by 7 ? 20 percentage points. There is also a cost to society, as those with dyscalculia are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-affected individuals, and a potential mental health cost, as it has been estimated that having dyscalculia raises the risk of depression 3-fold (Butterworth, 2008). Having a better understanding of the underlying causes of dyscalculia would improve our ability to detect early in life who is at risk, and also improve the remediation that we can offer. Our project should provide (1) a much more elaborate theoretical understanding of DD than currently available, (2) clear recommendations for identification methods for DD, (3) potential avenues for developing remediation for DD.

Technical Summary

It is estimated that 3-6% of children and adults have Developmental Dyscalculia (DD) which is a persistent mathematical disability of developmental origin. Despite the large number of people affected, there is no generally accepted functional definition of Dyscalculia, and nothing certain is known about its aetiology and neural origins. Currently the most prominent neuroscience theory suggests that DD is due to the impairment of a neural representation of number (magnitude representation: MR) residing in the horizontal intraparietal sulci of the brain. We identify several problems with the research underlying this hypothesis. In addition we show that psychological behavioural research provides alternative explanations of DD which could also explain the consistently-observed parietal deficit. According to these explanations DD may be due to the impairment of working memory (WM) and/or inhibitory control, the ability to resist interference from other cognitive or motor input (IC). To assess competing explanations, our proposal aims to examine the MR, WM and IC theories of DD in a single framework using the same subjects. This will help determine to what extent the impairment of MR, WM and IC contributes to DD and whether/how each cognitive process contributes to the observed parietal dysfunction.
We plan to test 26 primary school children, 26 high-school children and 20 adults with DD. Gender, age and education-matched control subjects will be paired with each group. High-school children and adults will be tested with both functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electro-encephalography (EEG). Primary school children will be tested with EEG. fMRI provides anatomical accuracy. EEG provides excellent temporal resolution. Three experiments will be run with each subject group. Experiment 1 will use the most up-to-date paradigm for identifying the MR: neural adaptation to non-symbolic magnitudes. Experiment 2 will examine the automatic activation of symbolic magnitudes and IC. Experiment 3 will examine both visual and phonological WM. Comparing DD and control subjects will enable us to separate the contribution of MR, WM and IC deficit to DD

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Workshop
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in advisory committee
 
Description ESRC post-doctoral fellowship (Dr Kinga Morsanyi)
Amount £79,738 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2011 
End 09/2012
 
Description Research Grant / Nuffield Foundation
Amount £202,000 (GBP)
Organisation Nuffield Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2013 
End 03/2016
 
Description THE INFLUENCE OF LANGUAGE SKILLS ON NUMERICAL AND ARITHMETIC DEVELOPMENT : AN INTERVENTION STUDY
Amount € 181,000 (EUR)
Organisation Wiener-Anspach Foundation 
Sector Learned Society
Country Belgium
Start 10/2012 
End 09/2014
 
Description Understanding Human Cognition
Amount $600,000 (USD)
Organisation James S. McDonnell Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United States
Start 01/2014 
End 12/2019
 
Description Wiener-Anspach Fellowship (Dr Florence Gabriel)
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation Wiener-Anspach Foundation 
Sector Learned Society
Country Belgium
Start 10/2009 
End 09/2011
 
Title EEG database 
Description EEG data collected from adults 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact We have published papers about the date we collected 
 
Title MRI database 
Description MRI samples 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact analysis in progress 
 
Title behavioral database 
Description we are collecting data from about one thousand children about their numerical abilities 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact we will be able to publish several research papers from this data and we will be able to disseminate results to lay audience 
 
Description Developmental Studies on numerical cognition 
Organisation Free University of Brussels
Department Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences
Country Belgium 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution ran several experiments
Collaborator Contribution ran experiments
Impact Gabriel F, Coche F, Szucs D, Carette V, Rey B, Content A (2012), An intervention program to improve children's understanding of fractions. Mind, Brain and Education, In Press. and there are several submitted papers
Start Year 2010
 
Description EEG studies of verification tasks 
Organisation University of Padova
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution First, ERASMUS studentship; then the student taking part in these activities secured a 3-year Gates PhD scholarship and published a paper in Biological Psychology (Avancini)
Collaborator Contribution sent a student for my supervision; contributed to design of experiments and writing up (Avancini et al. 2014; Biol Psych)
Impact http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030105111400218X
Start Year 2010
 
Description EEG studies on numerical cognition 
Organisation University of Padova
Department Department of General Psychology
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Joint study design
Collaborator Contribution partner contributed design and staff (ERASMUS student), I contributed design, lab space and staff
Impact study done manuscript in preparation
Start Year 2010
 
Description studies on dyscalculia and math anxiety in children 
Organisation University of Padova
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This is another PAdovan co-operation. As a consequence of my MRC funded research papers I got known in the field and I was approached to collaborate on MRC funded research topics. This collaboration will likely result in new funding on the medium turn.
Collaborator Contribution Collected data from thousand children in discussion with us.
Impact none yet, writing up is in progress.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Cambridge Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation Workshop Facilitator
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact public engagement

raised awareness for our research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012
 
Description Disseminating in teacher training conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 60 teachers attended my two talks on developmental dyscalculia

raised awareness of developmental dysclaculia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description International conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Health professionals
Results and Impact Made interntional scientific impact
Started important discussions within the profession

Special issue editing in Trends Journal in progress
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Regular Newsletters for School teachers and the public 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Sparked interest in our research, kept teachers informed and resulted in discussions generating some new insights.

(1) continued interest from schools to take part in our research
(2) increased awareness for developmental dyscalculia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2010,2011
 
Description short talks on developmental dyscalculia during schools visits 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact several teachers in each of the 18 schools taking part in the research visited talks by research staff

(1) raised awareness of developmental dyscalculia in teachers; (2) provided training for teachers about the current state of the art in numerical cognition
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010