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The role vision plays in shaping the representation of numbers.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - NonVisNumCog (The role vision plays in shaping the representation of numbers.)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

The goal of NonVisNumCog was to better understand the role vision plays in shaping the representation of numbers and space using behavioral as well as fMRI techniques. To examine this question, I explored the role vision plays in shaping the neural network of arithmetic. In addition to explore the cerebral basis of numerical cognition in blind, I also investigated whether blindness could delay the acquisition of several numerical concepts in childhood. I finally examined the extent to which this knowledge of the blind’s numerical development was able to offer a unique model to gain better insights into the functioning and rehabilitation of specific mathematics difficulties. As blind children and adults often present similar or even better numerical performance than sighted people, it is reasonable to assume that the symbolic numerical system is flexible enough to rely on different kinds of sensory and cognitive strategies to develop. The third aim of my project was therefore to determine whether the non-visual sense of numbers that is developed by the blind could be acquired by normally-developing children.

By studying the neural correlates of numerical processes in blind, our research program provided a thorough understanding of the development of numerical competencies without vision and gave rare insights about the role of experience on the cerebral development of high cognitive functions. Moreover, by studying numerical development in blind children, NonVisNumCog allowed us to investigate the advantages and limitations of a nonvisual learning of arithmetic and promoted the creation of a multisensory training program. This research project was extremely important since methods in mathematics education have received considerable interest in the past few years. This is probably because training studies can not only contribute to increase our theoretical knowledge on the development of numerical concepts but can also constitute the starting point for elaborating programs that assist children with difficulties or prevent mathematics difficulties in children at risk.
During NonVisNumCog, the experimental paradigms most suitable to address my experimental questions have been defined, tested and analyzed. The project as well as the data have been presented and discussed among members of the scientific community. Several scientific papers have for example been published in peer-reviewed journals. Results of the project have also been presented at several targeted international conferences. I finally used different ways to communicate the results of the research project to the local community. I organized meetings to present the research project and its results to the blind community and the medical professionals who work with these individuals. I also explained to children and mathematics teachers how numerical concepts can develop without vision and what are the difficulties of children presenting low visuo-spatial skills.
This research project gave new insights into: 1) the role vision plays in shaping the development of numerical concepts; 2) the neural plasticity phenomenon following early visual deprivation; 3) the advantages, limitations and consequences of a multisensory numerical teaching program. NonVisNumCog therefore led to important advances, not only at the conceptual level, but also in practical terms, illuminating the issue of how atypical experience impacts on cognitive development and how brain sciences can inform educational practices. This is particularly important because poor mathematics skills often lead to employment difficulties.