How is phonological processing related to individual differences in children’s arithmetic skills?


Daniel Ansari, Department of Psychology and Graduate Program in Neuroscience, University of Western Ontario, Westminster College, 361 Windermere Road, London, ON, N6G 2K3, Canada; e-mail:


While there is evidence for an association between the development of reading and arithmetic, the precise locus of this relationship remains to be determined. Findings from cognitive neuroscience research that point to shared neural correlates for phonological processing and arithmetic as well as recent behavioral evidence led to the present hypothesis that there exists a highly specific association between phonological awareness and single-digit arithmetic with relatively small problem sizes. The present study examined this association in 37 typically developing fourth and fifth grade children. Regression analyses revealed that phonological awareness was specifically and uniquely related to arithmetic problems with a small but not large problem size. Further analysis indicated that problems with a high probability of being solved by retrieval, but not those typically associated with procedural problem-solving strategies, are correlated with phonological awareness. The specific association between phonological awareness and arithmetic problems with a small problem size and those for which a retrieval strategy is most common was maintained even after controlling for general reading ability and phonological short-term memory. The present findings indicate that the quality of children’s long-term phonological representations mediates individual differences in single-digit arithmetic, suggesting that more distinct long-term phonological representations are related to more efficient arithmetic fact retrieval.