Math Difficulties May Reflect Problems in a Crucial Learning System in the Brain

According to a study out of the Georgetown University Medical Center and published in Frontiers in Psychology, children differ substantially in their mathematical abilities, in fact, some children cannot routinely add or subtract, even after extensive schooling. This new paper proposes that math disability arises from abnormalities in brain areas supporting procedural memory. Procedural memory is a learning and memory system that is crucial for the automatization of non-conscious skills, such as driving or grammar.

The procedural memory system has already been implicated in other developmental disorders, such as dyslexia and developmental language disorder.

“Given that the development of math skills involves their automatization, it makes sense that the dysfunction of procedural memory could lead to a math disability,” said one researcher. “In fact, aspects of math that tend to be automatized, such as arithmetic, are problematic in children with math disability. Moreover, since these children often also have dyslexia or developmental language disorder, the disorders may share causal mechanisms.

He continues to say that their theory, called the procedural deficit hypothesis of math disability, “offers a powerful, brain-based approach for understanding the disorder, and could help guide future research.”

Another researcher notes, “Other accounts do not generally explain math disability in terms of underlying brain structures, though the disorder must ultimately depend in aberrations in the brain.”

They explain that like many tasks, it takes conscious (declarative memory) as well as the procedural memory to learn something. We have to learn the math then it becomes embedded in our procedural memory and becomes second-nature. Take this into account if your child is having trouble with math or other subjects.


raziRazi Berry, Founder and Publisher of Naturopathic Doctor News & Review (ndnr.com) and NaturalPath (thenatpath.com), has spent the last decade as a natural medicine advocate and marketing whiz. She has galvanized and supported the naturopathic community, bringing a higher quality of healthcare to millions of North Americans through her publications. A self proclaimed health-food junkie and mother of two; she loves all things nature, is obsessed with organic gardening, growing fruit trees (not easy in Phoenix), laughing until she snorts, and homeschooling. She is a little bit crunchy and yes, that is her real name.

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