Frontoparietal white matter diffusion properties predict mental arithmetic skills in children

Jessica M. Tsang, Robert F. Dougherty, Gayle K. Deutsch, Brian A. Wandell, Michal Ben-Shachar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Functional MRI studies of mental arithmetic consistently report blood oxygen level - dependent signals in the parietal and frontal regions. We tested whether white matter pathways connecting these regions are related to mental arithmetic ability by using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to measure these pathways in 28 children (age 10-15 years, 14 girls) and assessing their mental arithmetic skills. For each child, we identified anatomically the anterior portion of the superior longitudinal fasciculus (aSLF), a pathway connecting parietal and frontal cortex. We measured fractional anisotropy in a core region centered along the length of the aSLF. Fractional anisotropy in the left aSLF positively correlates with arithmetic approximation skill, as measured by a mental addition task with approximate answer choices. The correlation is stable in adjacent core aSLF regions but lower toward the pathway endpoints. The correlation is not explained by shared variance with other cognitive abilities and did not pass significance in the right aSLF. These measurements used DTI, a structural method, to test a specific functional model of mental arithmetic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22546-22551
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
StatePublished - 19 Dec 2009


  • Development
  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • Individual differences
  • Mathematics
  • Superior longitudinal fasciculus


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