Fractionating the neural correlates of individual working memory components underlying arithmetic problem solving skills in children

Arron W.S. Metcalfe*, Sarit Ashkenazi, Miriam Rosenberg-Lee, Vinod Menon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Baddeley and Hitch's multi-component working memory (WM) model has played an enduring and influential role in our understanding of cognitive abilities. Very little is known, however, about the neural basis of this multi-component WM model and the differential role each component plays in mediating arithmetic problem solving abilities in children. Here, we investigate the neural basis of the central executive (CE), phonological (PL) and visuo-spatial (VS) components of WM during a demanding mental arithmetic task in 7-9 year old children (N = 74). The VS component was the strongest predictor of math ability in children and was associated with increased arithmetic complexity-related responses in left dorsolateral and right ventrolateral prefrontal cortices as well as bilateral intra-parietal sulcus and supramarginal gyrus in posterior parietal cortex. Critically, VS, CE and PL abilities were associated with largely distinct patterns of brain response. Overlap between VS and CE components was observed in left supramarginal gyrus and no overlap was observed between VS and PL components. Our findings point to a central role of visuo-spatial WM during arithmetic problem-solving in young grade-school children and highlight the usefulness of the multi-component Baddeley and Hitch WM model in fractionating the neural correlates of arithmetic problem solving during development.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)162-175
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
StatePublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship ( 387787-2010 ) to AWSM and by grants from NIH ( HD047520 , HD059205 , HD057610 ) and NSF ( DRL-0750340 ) to VM.


  • Arithmetic cognition
  • Central executive
  • Development
  • Individual differences
  • Visuo-spatial
  • Working memory
  • fMRI


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