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Poster F110 - Sketchpad Series

Exploring the neural basis of symbolic and non-symbolic magnitude processing in rural school children from Cote d’Ivoire

Poster Session F - Tuesday, April 16, 2024, 8:00 – 10:00 am EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Hannah Whitehead1 (, Stephanie Bugden2, Fabrice Tanoh3, Sharon Wolf4, Amy Ogan5, Samuel Kembou6, Kaja Jasińska1,7; 1University of Toronto, 2University of Winnipeg, 3Université Péléfero Gon Coulibaly, 4University of Pennsylvania, 5Carnegie Mellon University, 6Lausanne University, 7Haskins Laboratories

Research conducted in the Global North has found that both symbolic (e.g., Arabic numerals) and non-symbolic (e.g., dot arrays) magnitude processing predict mathematics achievement1. However, in studies that account for both symbolic and non-symbolic magnitude processing, the relations between non-symbolic processing and mathematics achievement are reduced or eliminated1 suggesting a critical role of symbolic number processing in developing mathematical skills. Recent research from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire found that non-symbolic processing was a significant and unique predictor of mathematics achievement, even when children were more accurate on the symbolic task2. These diverging patterns between Global North and Global South countries suggest the precursors of mathematics are not universal. We used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to understand the neural mechanisms that underlie context-based differences in precursors to mathematics. We assessed symbolic and non-symbolic magnitude processing in school-aged children in rural Côte d’Ivoire (N=188, Mage=8.89, SDage= 1.43) using a magnitude comparison task. Participants were instructed to select the larger magnitude within pairs of dot arrays (non-symbolic) and Arabic numerals (symbolic). Our preliminary analyses revealed activation in prefrontal and left temporal regions for non-symbolic processing and right inferior frontal gyrus activation for symbolic processing. Activation of left temporal regions, not typically seen in Global North samples3, suggests a potential neural basis for behavioral differences between Global North and Global South context. Brain-behaviour correlations and their relations to mathematics achievement will be discussed. Results from this study will inform how context influences the neurocognitive development of numerical skills.

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April 13–16  |  2024