Emerging neurodevelopmental perspectives on mathematical learning


Strong foundational skills in mathematical problem solving, acquired in early childhood, are critical not only for success in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) fields but also for quantitative reasoning in everyday life. The acquisition of mathematical skills relies on protracted interactive specialization of functional brain networks across development. Using a systems neuroscience approach, this review synthesizes emerging perspectives on neurodevelopmental pathways of mathematical learning, highlighting the functional brain architecture that supports these processes and sources of heterogeneity in mathematical skill acquisition. We identify the core neural building blocks of numerical cognition, anchored in the posterior parietal and ventral temporal-occipital cortices, and describe how memory and cognitive control systems, anchored in the medial temporal lobe and prefrontal cortex, help scaffold mathematical skill development. We highlight how interactive specialization of functional circuits influences mathematical learning across different stages of development. Functional and structural brain integrity and plasticity associated with math learning can be examined using an individual differences approach to better understand sources of heterogeneity in learning, including cognitive, affective, motivational, and sociocultural factors. Our review emphasizes the dynamic role of neurodevelopmental processes in mathematical learning and cognitive development more generally.

Developmental Review