Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Kerry E. Jordan


Kerry E. Jordan


Jamison Fargo


Ronald Gillam


Patricia Moyer-Packenham


Timothy A. Shahan


Understanding the brain’s response to common math-learning activities may help improve math education. For example, by imaging the brains of typically developing children and adults throughout a number line estimation task, it is possible to establish a baseline of what “typical” brains do in such situations. Thus, comparisons may be made to determine the degree to which brain functioning differs between typical and atypical math learners. Moreover, by identifying methods that may increase the brain’s response to real-world math activities, it may be possible to improve the math learning process for typical and atypical learners alike.

Brain imaging devices such as fMRI are not well suited for real-world math learning tasks because they require participants to lay prone within the device and to minimize movement. Therefore, the tasks that participants complete are not always analogous to real-world math tasks, and often do not provide information about real-world math processing. Because of its liberal tolerance of movement and high temporal resolution, a brain-imaging technology known as near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) represents an ideal platform to make such assessments. Here, NIRS is used to assess concurrent behavioral and neural responses to a common math-learning activity in which behavioral performance has previously been shown to correlate significantly with success in mathematics: the number line task. Also, by providing different types of performance feedback (i.e., visual, auditory, or audiovisual) throughout a portion of the task, we are able to determine whether feedback influences estimation performance as well as neurological responses.

The results of this study demonstrated that both behavioral and neurological responses are enhanced following feedback, and that such neurological responses are greatest in young children. Furthermore, we demonstrated that when number line estimations become more difficult, typically developing children increase activation in areas of the brain that are known to process number and math calculations. In sum, this study provided evidence regarding how typically developing children and adults process number line estimations. In addition, this is the first study to demonstrate such patterns of activation during a number line task, further justifying the use of NIRS in conducting brain imaging assessments of real-world math learning tasks.