Spatial Memory

Neuropsychologia. 2009 Nov;47(13):2859-65. Epub 2009 Jun 21.


Dysfunctional neural network of spatial working memory contributes to developmental dyscalculia.

Rotzer S, Loenneker T, Kucian K, Martin E, Klaver P, von Aster M.

MR-Center, University Children's Hospital, Steinwiesstrasse 75, CH-8032 Zurich, Switzerland.


The underlying neural mechanisms of developmental dyscalculia (DD) are still far from being clearly understood. Even the behavioral processes that generate or influence this heterogeneous disorder are a matter of controversy. To date, the few studies examining functional brain activation in children with DD mainly focus on number and counting related tasks, whereas studies on more general cognitive domains that are involved in arithmetical development, such as working memory are virtually absent. There are several studies showing a close relationship between DD and spatial working memory [Camos, V. (2008). Low working memory capacity impedes both efficiency and learning of number transcoding in children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 99(1), 37-57; McLean, J. F., & Hitch, G. J. (1999). Working memory impairments in children with specific arithmetic learning difficulties. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 74(3), 240-260; Rosselli, M., Matute, E., Pinto, N., & Ardila, A. (2006). Memory abilities in children with subtypes of dyscalculia. Developmental Neuropsychology, 30(3), 801-818; Siegel, L. S., & Ryan, E. B. (1989). The development of working memory in normally achieving and subtypes of learning disabled children. Child Development, 60(4), 973-980]. The relationship between these two mechanisms is still matter of debate, but this study follows the assumption that poor spatial working memory capacity may hinder the acquisition of spatial number representations in children with DD [Geary, D. C. (1993). Mathematical disabilities: Cognitive, neuropsychological, and genetic components. Psychological Bulletin, 114(2), 345-362; von Aster, M., & Shalev, R. S. (2007). Number development and developmental dyscalculia. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 49(11), 868-873]. Using functional MRI the current study compares brain activity associated with spatial working memory processes in 8-10-year-old children with DD and normally achieving controls. Both groups showed significant spatial working memory related activity in a network including occipital and parietal regions. Children with DD showed weaker neural activation compared to the control group during a spatial working memory task in the right intraparietal sulcus (IPS), the right insula and the right inferior frontal lobe. Performance tests outside the scanner showed impaired working memory proficiency in children with DD. Bringing behavioral performance and neural activity together we found significant correlations of right IPS activity with performance on the verbal digit span forward and the spatial Corsi Block Tapping test. Our findings demonstrate for the first time an involvement of spatial working memory processes in the neural underpinnings of DD. These poor spatial working memory processes may inhibit the formation of spatial number representations (mental numberline) as well as the storage and retrieval of arithmetical facts.

PMID: 19540861 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]