Neural Networks Underlying Alphabet Arithmetic Learning in Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (Dr. Lyons)

February 1, 2022 – Professor Ian Lyons and collaborators have a new paper published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, “From Counting to Retrieving: Neural Networks Underlying Alphabet Arithmetic Learning.



This fMRI study aimed at unraveling the neural basis of learning alphabet arithmetic facts, as a proxy of the transition from slow and effortful procedural counting-based processing to fast and effortless processing as it occurs in learning addition arithmetic facts. Neural changes were tracked while participants solved alphabet arithmetic problems in a verification task (e.g., F + 4 = J). Problems were repeated across four learning blocks. Two neural networks with opposed learning-related changes were identified. Activity in a network consisting of basal ganglia and parieto-frontal areas decreased with learning, which is in line with a reduction of the involvement of procedure-based processing. Conversely, activity in a network involving the left angular gyrus and, to a lesser extent, the hippocampus gradually increases with learning, evidencing the gradual involvement of retrieval-based processing. Connectivity analyses gave insight in the functional relationship between the two networks. Despite the opposing learning-related trajectories, it was found that both networks become more integrated. Taking alphabet arithmetic as a proxy for learning arithmetic, the present results have implications for current theories of learning arithmetic facts and can give direction to future developments.


Fias W, Sahan MI, Ansari D, Lyons IM (2021). From Counting to Retrieving: Neural Networks Underlying Alphabet Arithmetic Learning. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 34(1):16-33.