Cognitive correlates of performance in advanced mathematics


Xinlin Zhou, State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China (e-mail:


Background. Much research has been devoted to understanding cognitive correlates of elementary mathematics performance, but little such research has been done for advanced mathematics (e.g., modern algebra, statistics, and mathematical logic).

Aims. To promote mathematical knowledge among college students, it is necessary to understand what factors (including cognitive factors) are important for acquiring advanced mathematics.

Samples. We recruited 80 undergraduates from four universities in Beijing.

Methods. The current study investigated the associations between students’ performance on a test of advanced mathematics and a battery of 17 cognitive tasks on basic numerical processing, complex numerical processing, spatial abilities, language abilities, and general cognitive processing.

Results. The results showed that spatial abilities were significantly correlated with performance in advanced mathematics after controlling for other factors. In addition, certain language abilities (i.e., comprehension of words and sentences) also made unique contributions. In contrast, basic numerical processing and computation were generally not correlated with performance in advanced mathematics.

Conclusions. Results suggest that spatial abilities and language comprehension, but not basic numerical processing, may play an important role in advanced mathematics. These results are discussed in terms of their theoretical significance and practical implications.