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date: 06 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Neuroimaging has significantly contributed to our understanding of human learning by tracking the neural correlates underlying the acquisition of new expertise. Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) suggest that the acquisition of arithmetic competence is reflected in a decrease of activation in frontal brain regions and a relative increase of activation in parietal brain regions that are important for arithmetic processing. Activation of the angular gyrus (AG) is related to fact learning, skilled retrieval, and level of automatization. fMRI investigations extend the findings of cognitive studies showing that behavioural differences between trained and untrained sets of items, between different arithmetic operations, and between different training strategies are reflected by specific activation patterns. fMRI studies also reveal inter-individual differences related to arithmetic competence, with low performing individuals showing lower AG activation when answering calculation problems. Importantly, training attenuates inter-individual differences in AG activation. Studies with calculation experts suggest that different strategies may be used to achieve extraordinary performance. While some experts recruit a more extended cerebral network compared with the average population, others use the same frontoparietal network, but more efficiently. In conclusion, brain imaging studies on arithmetic learning and expertise offer a promising view on the adaptivity of the human brain. Although evidence on functional or structural modifications following intervention in dyscalculic patients is still scarce, future studies may contribute to the development of more efficient and targeted rehabilitation programmes after brain damage or in cases of atypical numerical development.

Keywords: learning, training, arithmetic, brain plasticity, brain activation, gray matter volume, dyscalculia

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