Grey cells in the brain process information and are connected via neural pathways, the tracts through which signals are transferred. The thicker these pathways are, the more white matter there is in the brain and the faster signals can be transferred. So what does this mean for learning?

​A study led by Professor Bert De Smedt of Psychology and Educational Sciences, KU Leuven has found that 12-year-olds who score well in addition and multiplication have higher-quality white matter tracts in their brains. This correlation does not appear to apply to subtraction and division.

​In the study, researchers had 25 children solve a series of different arithmetic operations while undergoing a brain scan. They compared the quality of the children’s white matter tracts with their arithmetic performance and found that better quality of the white matter tracts corresponded to better performance in addition and multiplication.

​The white matter tract also seems to play an important role in reading. Reading as well as addition and multiplication involve similar memory processes. The researchers believe that this could be why we often see arithmetic problems in children with dyslexia. Likewise, children with dyscalculia often have trouble reading. The researchers thus aim to explore how these results relate to children with learning disabilities such as dyscalculia and will also investigate how white matter tracts may be strengthened through extra arithmetic training.

​Read more about this study over at ScienceDaily.