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Bert De Smedt

Bert De Smedt
KU Leuven | ku leuven · Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences

Prof. Dr.

About

208
Publications
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Introduction
I am a professor in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences My primary interest is in individual differences in children's mathematical skills. I use both behavioral and brain imaging methods to understand how children develop arithmetical skills and what neurocognitive mechanisms underlie this development. I aim to integrate cognitive neuroscience into educational research, contributing to the new field of educational neuroscience or Mind, Brain and Education.

Publications

Publications (208)
Chapter
In this chapter I summarize research on individual differences in arithmetic fact retrieval through the lens of educational neuroscience. By generating predictions about underlying cognitive processes based on neuroimaging data, developmental behavioral studies have revealed that symbolic numerical magnitude processing plays a unique role in childr...
Article
When solving subtraction problems such as 83–46, children use the direct subtraction (DS) strategy (e.g., 83 – 40 = 43, 43 – 6 = 37) or the subtraction by addition (SBA) strategy (e.g., 46 + 4 = 50, 50 + 30 = 80, 80 + 3 = 83, so the answer is 4 + 30 + 3 = 37). This study is the first to use the choice/no-choice method to examine DS and SBA use in t...
Article
Young children frequently make a peculiar counting mistake. When asked to count units that are sets of multiple items, such as the number of families at a party, they often count discrete items (i.e., individual people) rather than the number of sets (i.e., families). One explanation concerns children’s incomplete understanding of what constitutes...
Article
The developmental literature has revealed a wide variety of factors that correlate with individual differences in mathematical cognition. These factors have been classified along the simple distinction between domain-specific and domain-general factors. Here, I review a series of recent meta-analyses that have summarized the existing evidence for e...
Article
Full-text available
Investigating how the brain may constrain academic achievement is not only relevant to understanding brain structure but also to providing insight into the origins of individual differences in these academic abilities. In this pre-registered study, we investigated whether the variability of sulcal patterns, a qualitative feature of the brain determ...
Article
There are massive developments in children’s early number skills in the ages 4- to 6-year old during which they attend preschool education and before they transition to formal school. We investigated to which extent these developments can be explained by children’ schooling experiences during preschool or by chronological age related maturational c...
Article
It is well established that early general language during preschool is critical for children's mathematical abilities. In an attempt to further characterize this association between language and mathematics, an increasing number of studies show that one specific type of language, namely mathematical language or the key linguistic concepts that are...
Preprint
The developmental literature has revealed a wide variety of factors that correlate with individual differences in mathematical cognition. These factors have been classified along the simple distinction between domain-specific and domain-general factors. Here, I review a series of recent meta-analyses that have summarized the existing evidence for e...
Preprint
Young children frequently make a peculiar counting mistake. When asked to count abstract units, such as the number of families at a party, they often count discrete items (i.e. individual people) rather than the number of abstract units (i.e. families). A proposed explanation concerns children’s incomplete understanding of what constitutes a unit,...
Article
Arithmetic learning is characterized by a change from procedural strategies to fact retrieval. fMRI training studies in adults have revealed that this change coincides with decreased activation in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and that within the parietal lobe, a shift occurs from the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) to the angular gyrus (AG) during this c...
Article
We investigated elementary school children's use of direct subtraction (DS) and subtraction by addition (SBA) when mentally solving multi-digit subtractions. Fourth- to sixth-grade children of varying mathematical achievement levels were offered subtractions in one choice condition (choice between DS or SBA) and two no-choice conditions (mandatory...
Article
Full-text available
Numerous studies have identified neurophysiological correlates of performing arithmetic in adults. For example, oscillatory electroencephalographic (EEG) patterns associated with retrieval and procedural strategies are well established. Whereas fact retrieval has been linked to enhanced left-hemispheric theta ERS (event-related synchronization), pr...
Article
Full-text available
The development of numerical and arithmetic abilities constitutes a crucial cornerstone in our modern and educated societies. Difficulties to acquire these central skills can lead to severe consequences for an individual’s well-being and nation’s economy. In the present review, we describe our current broad understanding of the functional and struc...
Article
Full-text available
Ellis et al. (2021, this issue; in the following abbreviated as EEA) conducted a conceptual replication and extension of a recent meta-analysis relating number line estimation to broader mathematical competence (Schneider et al., 2018; in the following: SEA). EEA pooled and analyzed data from seven new studies and compared the results to SEA’s find...
Article
Knowledge on statistical learning (SL) in healthy elderly is scarce. Theoretically, it is not clear whether aging affects modality-specific and/or domain-general learning mechanisms. Practically, there is a lack of research on simplified SL tasks, which would ease the burden of testing in clinical populations. Against this background, we conducted...
Article
How do different measures of brain structure correlate with individual differences in arithmetic fluency? This paper builds on two previously published studies in which individual differences in children’s arithmetic fluency were correlated with measures of white (Polspoel et al., 2019) and grey matter (Polspoel et al., 2020) in one sample of child...
Article
This study presents a patterning intervention for 5-year-olds, who were in their third year of preschool in Flanders (Belgium), with two key elements: A focus on the structure of patterns, and the inclusion of growing patterns (e.g., ABAABAAAB) in addition to repeating patterns (e.g., ABABAB). We evaluated the impact of this intervention on pattern...
Article
Full-text available
This article synthesizes findings from an international virtual conference, funded by the United States National Science Foundation, focused on the home mathematics environment (HME). In light of inconsistencies and gaps in research investigating relations between the HME and children’s outcomes, the purpose of the conference was to discuss actiona...
Preprint
Numerous studies have identified neurophysiological correlates of performing arithmeticin adults. For example, oscillatory electroencephalographic(EEG) patterns associated with retrieval and procedural strategies are well established. Whereas fact retrieval has beenlinked to enhancedleft-hemispherictheta ERS(event-related synchronization), procedur...
Article
This longitudinal cross-lagged panel study investigated the development of the structure of young children’s spontaneous number focusing tendencies and their longitudinal associations with numerical abilities and mathematics achievement over the course of a 3-year period, that is, in the second and third year of kindergarten and in first grade of p...
Article
The current study examined upper elementary school children’s frequent, efficient and adaptive use of direct subtraction ( DS ) and subtraction by addition ( SBA ) when mentally solving multi-digit subtractions, replicating and expanding previous research by Torbeyns et al. (2018). First, children were offered subtractions in two choice conditions...
Article
Full-text available
Single-digit multiplications are thought to be associated with different levels of interference because they show different degrees of feature overlap (i.e., digits) with previously learnt problems. Recent behavioral and neuroimaging studies provided evidence for this interference effect and showed that individual differences in arithmetic fact ret...
Preprint
Full-text available
Investigating how the brain may constrain academic achievement is not only relevant to understanding brain structure but also to providing insight into the origins of individual differences in these academic abilities. In this pre-registered study, we investigated whether the variability of sulcal patterns, a qualitative feature of the brain determ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Investigating how the brain may constrain academic achievement is not only relevant to understanding brain structure but also to providing insight into the origins of individual differences in these academic abilities. In this pre-registered study, we investigated whether the variability of sulcal patterns, a qualitative feature of the brain determ...
Article
There is broad consensus on the assumption that adults solve single-digit multiplication problems almost exclusively by fact retrieval from memory. In contrast, there has been a long-standing debate on the cognitive processes involved in solving single-digit addition problems. This debate has evolved around two theoretical accounts. Proponents of a...
Article
The present study aimed to analyze the direction of the associations between repeating patterning, growing patterning, and numerical ability. Participants were 410 children who were annually assessed on their repeating patterning, growing patterning, and numerical ability, at ages 4, 5, and 6 years (i.e., spring 2017, 2018, and 2019). A cross-lagge...
Chapter
This chapter reflects on the impact of education on numerical cognition. Mathematics is a symbolic activity, which must be learned via education, and this learning process will impact on how we process number. There are huge differences in the educational contexts around the globe in which this learning occurs, but these contexts are relatively und...
Chapter
In this chapter, we review a long-standing and comprehensive line of research on the use of the subtraction by addition (SBA) strategy when solving subtractions, in which our own research center has played an important role. We document this phenomenon in a variety of subdomains of the elementary arithmetic curriculum, ranging from single-digit men...
Article
Full-text available
Selecting a large and diverse sample of 5-6-year-old preschool children (179 boys and 174 girls; M age = 70.03 months, SD age = 3.43), we aimed to extend previous findings on variability in children's home math environment (i.e., home math activities, parental expectations, and attitudes) and its association with children's mathematical skills. We...
Article
Specific learning disorders (i.e., dyscalculia and dyslexia) are common, as is their comorbidity. It has been suggested that the core cognitive deficit in dyscalculia is an impairment in numerical magnitude processing; similarly, in dyslexia, phonological processing deficits are considered to be the main cognitive deficit. Cognitive theories on com...
Article
Children’s spontaneous focusing on Arabic number symbols (SFONS) has been identified as a relevant component of their early mathematical development. This study investigated whether SFONS is a separate construct from spontaneous focusing on numerosity (SFON) and examined whether it is uniquely related to numerical abilities and mathematics achievem...
Article
Full-text available
The concept of home numeracy has been defined as parent-child interactions with numerical content. This concept started to receive increasing attention since the last decade. Most of the studies indicated that the more parents and their children engage in numerical experiences, the better children perform in mathematical tasks. However, there are a...
Article
Children’s spontaneous focusing on Arabic number symbols (SFONS) has been identified as a relevant component of their early mathematical development. This study investigated whether SFONS is a separate construct from spontaneous focusing on numerosity (SFON) and examined whether it is uniquely related to numerical abilities and mathematics achievem...
Article
Full-text available
In contrast to a substantial body of research on the neural basis of cognitive performance in several academic domains, less is known about how the brain generates metacognitive (MC) awareness of such performance. The existing work on the neurobiological underpinnings of metacognition has almost exclusively been done in adults and has largely focus...
Article
Numerous studies have investigated brain changes associated with interventions targeting a range of language problems in patients with aphasia. We strive to integrate the results of these studies to examine (1) whether the focus of the intervention (i.e. phonology, semantics, orthography, syntax or rhythmic-melodic) determines in which brain region...
Article
Full-text available
The special issue resulting from the 2018 Earli‐SIG22 conference reflects the current state of the field, the diversity of methods, the persevering limitations and promising directions towards solutions. About half of the empirical papers in this special issue that consist of three parts, uses behavioral, self‐report or qualitative measures to unde...
Article
Full-text available
Metacognitive monitoring is a critical predictor of arithmetic in primary school. One outstanding question is whether this metacognitive monitoring is domain-specific or whether it reflects a more general performance monitoring process. To answer this conundrum, we investigated metacognitive monitoring in two related, yet distinct academic domains:...
Preprint
Full-text available
There is broad consensus that adults solve single-digit multiplication problems almost exclusively by fact retrieval (i.e., retrieval of the solution from an arithmetic fact network). In contrast, there has been a long-standing debate on the cognitive processes involved in solving single-digit addition problems. This debate has evolved around two t...
Chapter
In this chapter we review and discuss a relatively new line of research in the domain of early mathematical development that addresses the dispositional rather than the ability aspect of children’s early mathematical competence, namely their tendencies to attend to and focus on various mathematical elements in their environment and its relation wit...
Article
Young children show large individual differences in their tendency to focus spontaneously on numerical aspects (e.g., numerosities or Arabic number symbols) of their everyday environment. The origins of these individual differences are unclear. Given the role of the home numeracy environment (HNE) in children’s early mathematical development and th...
Article
Full-text available
By analyzing longitudinal data from the start to the end of primary education, we aimed to investigate whether symbolic numerical magnitude processing at the start of primary education predicted arithmetic at the end, and whether arithmetic at the start of primary education predicted later symbolic numerical magnitude processing skills at the end....
Article
Only a small amount of studies have looked at the structural neural correlates of children's arithmetic. Furthermore, these studies mainly implemented voxel-based morphometry, which only takes the volume of regions into account, without looking at other structural properties. The current study aimed to contribute knowledge on which brain regions ar...
Article
Background: Early patterning competence has recently been identified as an important precursor of mathematical development. Whereas the focus of this research has been on children's ability regarding repeating patterns, children might also differ in their spontaneous attention to patterns. Aims: The present study aimed to explore 4- to 5-year ol...
Article
In this study, we aimed to address two gaps in research on early mathematical patterning, namely the lack of attention (1) to growing patterns and (2) to the association between different aspects of patterning and numerical ability. Participants were 400 four-year olds from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Children's patterning and numeri...
Article
Full-text available
Single-digit multiplications are mainly solved by memory retrieval. However, these problems are also prone to errors due to systematic interference (i.e., co-activation of interconnected but incorrect solutions). Semantic control processes are crucial to overcome this type of interference and to retrieve the correct information. Previous research s...
Article
Full-text available
Not all researchers interested in human behavior remain convinced that modern neuroimaging techniques have much to contribute to distinguishing between competing cognitive models for explaining human behavior, especially if one removes reverse inference from the table. Here, we took up this challenge in an attempt to distinguish between two competi...
Chapter
Activities with patterns (e.g., making a necklace with alternating blue and red pearls) are common in many preschool and kindergarten settings. These activities are assumed to play an important role in children’s mathematical development. Nevertheless, most research on early mathematical development focuses on numerical and arithmetical abilities,...
Article
Many studies have investigated the association between children’s spontaneous attention to number and their early mathematical abilities. This work has presented number in a non-symbolic format by exclusively using numerosities as their stimuli. Therefore, little is known about children’s spontaneous attention for Arabic number symbols. We aimed to...
Article
Within children’s multiplication fact retrieval, performance can be influenced by various effects, such as the well-known problem size effect (i.e., smaller problems are solved faster and more accurately) and the more recent interference effect (i.e., the quality of memory representations of problems depends on previously learned problems; the more...
Article
Full-text available
Arithmetic is a major building block for children's development of more complex mathematical abilities. Knowing which cognitive factors underlie individual differences in arithmetic is key to gaining further insight into children's mathematical development. The current study investigated the role of executive functions and metacognition (domain-gen...
Poster
Full-text available
Preliminary results of study on neurobiological basis of metacognitive monitoring in children during arithmetic performance.
Article
Full-text available
Connectivity between brain regions is integral to efficient complex cognitive processing, making the study of white matter pathways in clarifying the neural mechanisms of individual differences in arithmetic abilities critical. This white matter connectivity underlying arithmetic has only been investigated through classic diffusion tensor imaging,...
Chapter
In this commentary, I reflect from a neurocognitive perspective on the four chapters on natural number development included in this section. These chapters show that the development of seemingly basic number processing is much more complex than is often portrayed in neurocognitive research. The chapters collectively illustrate that children’s devel...
Article
Multiplication is thought to be primarily solved via direct retrieval from memory. Two of the main factors known to influence the retrieval of multiplication facts are problem size and interference. Because these factors are often intertwined, we sought to investigate the unique influences of problem size and interference on both performance and ne...
Article
Full-text available
Many studies have examined the cognitive determinants of children’s calculation, yet the specific contribution of children’s patterning abilities to calculation remains relatively unexplored. This study investigated whether children’s ability to complete sequence patterns (i.e., add the missing element into 2–4–?–8) uniquely predicted individual di...
Article
The number line estimation task is widely used to investigate mathematical learning and development. The present meta-analysis statistically synthesized the extensive evidence on the correlation between number line estimation and broader mathematical competence. Averaged over 263 effect sizes with 10576 participants with sample mean ages from 4 to...
Article
Full-text available
Numerical competencies acquired in preschool are foundational and predictive for children's later mathematical development. It remains to be determined whether there are gender differences in these early numerical competencies which could explain the often‐reported gender differences in later mathematics and STEM‐related abilities. Using a Bayesian...
Poster
Full-text available
Connectivity between brain regions is integral to efficient complex cognitive processing, making the study of white matter pathways in clarifying the neural mechanisms of individual differences in arithmetic abilities critical. This white matter connectivity underlying arithmetic has only been investigated through classic diffusion tensor imaging (...
Article
Full-text available
We investigated the use of the subtraction by addition strategy, an important mental calculation strategy in children with different levels of mathematics achievement. In doing so we relied on Siegler’s cognitive psychological model of strategy change (Lemaire & Siegler, 1995), which defines strategy competencies in terms of four parameters (strate...
Article
Full-text available
Two hypotheses have been proposed about the etiology of neurodevelopmental learning disorders, such as dyslexia and dyscalculia: representation impairments and disrupted access to representations. We implemented a multi-method brain imaging approach to directly investigate these representation and access hypotheses in dyscalculia, a highly prevalen...
Article
Full-text available
Home numeracy has been shown to play an important role in children’s mathematical performance. However, findings are inconsistent as to which home numeracy activities are related to which mathematical skills. The present study disentangled between various mathematical abilities that were previously masked by the use of composite scores of mathemati...
Data
Multivariate analyses in smaller ROIs.
Article
Full-text available
Brain disorders are often investigated in isolation, but very different conclusions might be reached when studies directly contrast multiple disorders. Here, we illustrate this in the context of specific learning disorders, such as dyscalculia and dyslexia. While children with dyscalculia show deficits in arithmetic, children with dyslexia present...
Chapter
Children’s Spontaneous Focusing On Numerosity (SFON) predicts later mathematics performance. This association is assumed to rely on children’s self-initiated practice in number recognition during everyday activities, which would enhance their further mathematical development. Consequently, SFON in experimental tasks should be associated with SFON d...
Article
Home numeracy has been defined as the parent–child interactions that include experiences with numerical content in daily-life settings. Previous studies have commonly operationalized home numeracy either via questionnaires or via observational methods. These studies have shown that both types of measures are positively related to variability in chi...