Foundational number sense training gains are predicted by hippocampal – parietal circuits


The development of mathematical skills in early childhood relies on number sense, the foundational ability to discriminate among quantities. Number sense in early childhood is predictive of academic and professional success, and deficits in number sense are thought to underlie lifelong impairments in mathematical abilities. Despite its importance, the brain circuit mechanisms that support number sense learning remain poorly understood. Here, we designed a theoretically motivated training program to determine brain circuit mechanisms underlying foundational number sense learning in female and male elementary school-age children (7–10 years). Our 4 week integrative number sense training program gradually strengthened the understanding of the relations between symbolic (Arabic numerals) and nonsymbolic (sets of items) representations of quantity. We found that our number sense training program improved symbolic quantity discrimination ability in children across a wide range of math abilities including children with learning difficulties. Crucially, the strength of pretraining functional connectivity between the hippocampus and intraparietal sulcus, brain regions implicated in associative learning and quantity discrimination, respectively, predicted individual differences in number sense learning across typically developing children and children with learning difficulties. Reverse meta-analysis of interregional coactivations across 14,371 fMRI studies and 89 cognitive functions confirmed a reliable role for hippocampal–intraparietal sulcus circuits in learning. Our study identifies a canonical hippocampal–parietal circuit for learning that plays a foundational role in children’s cognitive skill acquisition. Findings provide important insights into neurobiological circuit markers of individual differences in children’s learning and delineate a robust target for effective cognitive interventions.

Journal of Neuroscience