Prospective demonstration of brain plasticity after intensive abacus-based mental calculation training: An fMRI study
Abacus-based mental calculation is a unique Chinese culture. The abacus experts can perform complex computations mentally with exceptionally fast speed and high accuracy. However, the neural bases of computation processing are not yet clearly known. This study used a BOLD contrast 3T fMRI system to explore the brain activation differences between abacus experts and non-expert subjects. All the acquired data were analyzed using SPM99 software. From the results, different ways of performing calculations between the two groups were seen. The experts tended to adopt efficient visuospatial/visuomotor strategy (bilateral parietal/frontal network) to process and retrieve all the intermediate and final results on the virtual abacus during calculation. By contrast, coordination of several networks (verbal, visuospatial processing and executive function) was required in the normal group to carry out arithmetic operations. Furthermore, more involvement of the visuomotor imagery processing (right dorsal premotor area) for imagining bead manipulation and low level use of the executive function (frontal-subcortical area) for launching the relatively time-consuming sequentially organized process was noted in the abacus expert group than in the non-expert group. We suggest that these findings may explain why abacus experts can reveal the exceptional computational skills compared to non-experts after intensive training.