Long-term abacus training gains in children are predicted by medial temporal lobe anatomy and circuitry

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John Wiley & Sons, Inc


Abacus-based mental calculation (AMC) is a widely used educational tool for enhancing math learning, offering an accessible and cost-effective method for classroom implementation. Despite its universal appeal, the neurocognitive mechanisms that drive the efficacy of AMC training remain poorly understood. Notably, although abacus training relies heavily on the rapid recall of number positions and sequences, the role of memory systems in driving long-term AMC learning remains unknown. Here, we sought to address this gap by investigating the role of the medial temporal lobe (MTL) memory system in predicting long-term AMC training gains in second-grade children, who were longitudinally assessed up to fifth grade. Leveraging multimodal neuroimaging data, we tested the hypothesis that MTL systems, known for their involvement in associative memory, are instrumental in facilitating AMC-induced improvements in math skills. We found that gray matter volume in bilateral MTL, along with functional connectivity between the MTL and frontal and ventral temporal-occipital cortices, significantly predicted learning gains. Intriguingly, greater gray matter volume but weaker connectivity of the posterior parietal cortex predicted better learning outcomes, offering a more nuanced view of brain systems at play in AMC training. Our findings not only underscore the critical role of the MTL memory system in AMC training but also illuminate the neurobiological factors contributing to individual differences in cognitive skill acquisition. A video abstract of this article can be viewed at https://youtu.be/StVooNRc7T8.