Contributions of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to the Study of Numerical Cognition


  • Anna A. Matejko
  • Daniel Ansari


Using neuroimaging as a lens through which to understand numerical and mathematical cognition has provided both a different and complementary level of analysis to the broader behavioural literature. In particular, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has contributed to our understanding of numerical and mathematical processing by testing and expanding existing psychological theories, creating novel hypotheses, and providing converging evidence with behavioural findings. There now exist several examples where fMRI has provided unique insights into the cognitive underpinnings of basic number processing, arithmetic, and higher-level mathematics. In this review, we discuss how fMRI has contributed to five critical questions in the field including: 1) the relationship between symbolic and nonsymbolic processing; 2) whether arithmetic skills are rooted in an understanding of basic numerical concepts; 3) the role of arithmetic strategies in the development of arithmetic skills; 4) whether basic numerical concepts scaffold higher-level mathematical skills; and 5) the neurobiological origins of developmental dyscalculia. In each of these areas, we review how the fMRI literature has both complemented and pushed the boundaries of our knowledge on these central theoretical issues. Finally, we discuss limitations of current approaches and future directions that will hopefully lead to even greater contributions of neuroimaging to our understanding of numerical cognition.