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Poster E152

Age-Related Differences in Mathematical Problem-Solving Among Children and Adolescents

Poster Session E - Monday, April 15, 2024, 2:30 – 4:30 pm EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Mo-Ya Chu1 (, Xin-Yu Chen1, Chan-Tat Ng1, Ting-Ting Chang1,2; 1Department of Psychology, National Chengchi University, Taipei City, Taiwan, 2Research Center for Mind, Brain, and Learning, National Chengchi University, Taipei City, Taiwan

Word problem-solving is a vital skill for connecting mathematical knowledge to real-world applications, yet its developmental trajectory of behavioral and neural mechanisms remains elusive. To address this gap, this study investigates how problem descriptions alter word problem solutions, elucidating age-related differences between adolescents and children using fMRI. Brain imaging data from 48 participants, comprising 21 children (9F/12M, mean age = 10.51 years, SD = 1.09, age range: 8.85-12.67) and 27 adolescents (15F/12M, mean age = 15.36 years, SD = 1.81, age range: 12.33-18.44), were acquired while participants solved word problems containing a relational term. We manipulated the arithmetic operation (addition/subtraction) and lexical consistency (consistent, where the relational term aligns with the operation required to solve the word problems, e.g. more-addition, less-subtraction; inconsistent, where the reverse holds, e.g. more-subtraction, less-addition). Voxel-wise whole-brain analysis revealed significant three-way interactions between age, lexical consistency, and operation, primarily in the fronto-insular-parietal network, including the bilateral intraparietal sulci and left middle frontal gyrus. Specifically, adolescents exhibited a consistency-by-operation effect, with stronger activations for subtraction than addition when the problem description was lexically consistent, whereas a reverse operation effect was profound for lexically inconsistent problems. In contrast, for children, operation effects remained the same regardless of the lexical consistency. These findings suggest that across the learning and proficiency spectrum, problem lexical description does not affect word problem solution until the transition into adolescence. These findings highlight the maturation of cognitive mechanisms in mathematical problem-solving and emphasize the importance of targeted educational interventions in this formative period.

Topic Area: THINKING: Problem solving


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