Mathematical impairment associated with high-contrast abnormalities in change detection and magnocellular visual evoked response Academic Article uri icon


  • The cause of developmental dyscalculia, a specific deficit in acquisition of arithmetic skills, particularly of enumeration, has never been investigated with respect to the patency of the visual magnocellular system. Here, the question of dysfunction of the afferent magnocellular cortical input and its dorsal stream projections was tested directly using nonlinear analysis of the visual evoked potential (VEP) and through the psychophysical ability to rapidly detect visual change. A group of young adults with self-reported deficiencies of arithmetical ability, showed marked impairment in magnitude estimation and enumeration performance-though not in lexical decision reaction times when compared with an arithmetically capable group controlled for age and handedness. Multifocal nonlinear VEPs were recorded at low (24 %) and high (96 %) contrast. First- and second-order VEP kernels were comparable between groups at low contrast, but not at high contrast. The mathematically impaired group showed an abnormal lack of contrast saturation in the shortest latency first-order peak (N60) and a delayed P100 positivity in the first slice of the second-order kernel. Both features have previously been argued to be physiological markers of magnocellular function. Mathematically impaired participants also performed worse on a gap paradigm change detection for digit task showing increased reaction times for high-contrast stimuli but not for low-contrast stimuli compared with controls. The VEP results give direct evidence of abnormality in the occipital processing of magnocellular information in those with mathematical impairment. The anomalous high visual contrast physiological and psychophysical performance suggests an abnormality in the inhibitory processes that normally result in saturation of contrast gain in the magnocellular system.

publication date

  • 2015