Temporo-frontal activation during phonological processing predicts gains in arithmetic facts in young children
Behavioral studies have shown discrepant results regarding the role of phonology in predicting math gains. The objective of this study was to use fMRI to study the role of activation during a rhyming judgment task in predicting behavioral gains on math fluency, multiplication, and subtraction skill. We focused within the left middle/superior temporal gyrus and left inferior frontal gyrus, brain areas associated with the storage of phonological representations and with their access, respectively. We ran multiple regression analyses to determine whether activation predicted gains in the three math measures, separately for younger (i.e. 10 years old) and older (i.e 12 years old) children. Results showed that activation in both temporal and frontal cortex only predicted gains in fluency and multiplication skill, and only for younger children. This study suggests that both temporal and frontal cortex activation during phonological processing are important in predicting gains in math tasks that involve the retrieval of facts that are stored as phonological codes in memory. Moreover, these results were specific to younger children, suggesting that phonology is most important in the early stages of math development. When the math task involved subtractions, which relies on quantity representations, phonological processes were not important in driving gains.