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Good and bad at numbers: typical and atypical development of number processing and arithmetic

Iuculano, T; (2012) Good and bad at numbers: typical and atypical development of number processing and arithmetic. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis elucidates the heterogeneous nature of mathematical skills by examining numerical and arithmetical abilities in typical, atypical and exceptional populations. Moreover, it looks at the benefits of intervention for remediating and improving mathematical skills. First, we establish the nature of the ‘number sense’ and assess its contribution to typical and atypical arithmetical development. We confirmed that representing and manipulating numerosities approximately is fundamentally different from the ability to manipulate them exactly. Yet only the exact manipulation of numbers seems to be crucial for the development of arithmetic. These results lead to a better characterization of mathematical disabilities such as Developmental Dyscalculia and Low Numeracy. In the latter population we also investigated more general cognitive functions demonstrating how inhibition processes of working memory and stimulusmaterial interacted with arithmetical attainment. Furthermore, we examined areas of mathematics that are often difficult to grasp: the representation and processing of rational numbers. Using explicit mapping tasks we demonstrated that well-educated adults, but also typically developing 10 year olds and children with low numeracy have a comprehensive understanding of these types of numbers. We also investigated exceptional maths abilities in a population of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) demonstrating that this condition is characterized by outstanding arithmetical skills and sophisticated calculation strategies, which are reflected in a fundamentally different pattern of brain activation. Ultimately we looked at remediation and learning. Targeted behavioural intervention was beneficial for children with low numeracy but not in Developmental Dyscalculia. Finally, we demonstrated that adults’ numerical performance can be enhanced by neural stimulation (tDCS) to dedicated areas of the brain. This work sheds light on the entire spectrum of mathematical skills from atypical to exceptional development and it is extremely relevant for the advancing of the field of mathematical cognition and the prospects of diagnosis, education and intervention.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Good and bad at numbers: typical and atypical development of number processing and arithmetic
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English

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