ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

心理学报 ›› 2023, Vol. 55 ›› Issue (5): 696-710.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2023.00696

• 研究报告 • 上一篇    下一篇


祝孝亮1,2, 赵鑫1,2()   

  1. 1甘肃省行为与心理健康重点实验室
    2西北师范大学心理学院, 兰州 730070
  • 收稿日期:2022-06-08 发布日期:2023-02-14 出版日期:2023-05-25
  • 通讯作者: 赵鑫, E-mail:
  • 基金资助:

Role of executive function in mathematical ability of children in different grades

ZHU Xiaoliang1,2, ZHAO Xin1,2()   

  1. 1Key Laboratory of Behavioral and Mental Health of Gansu province, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China
    2School of Psychology, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China
  • Received:2022-06-08 Online:2023-02-14 Published:2023-05-25


选取812名三~六年级的儿童, 采用相关分析和结构方程模型等方法考察了各执行功能成分在不同年级儿童三种数学能力中的作用。结果显示, 在低年级阶段, 工作记忆广度是数学运算能力、空间想象能力和逻辑思维能力最重要的预测因素; 在高年级阶段, 工作记忆广度对三种数学能力的预测作用下降, 而工作记忆刷新和认知灵活性对数学能力的预测作用提升。这表明, 各执行功能成分对不同数学能力的预测作用存在差异, 并将随儿童年级的增长而发生变化。

关键词: 执行功能, 数学能力, 小学儿童, 结构方程模型


Mathematical ability is an important component of children's academic achievement and critical to individual development. Executive function, as an essential cognitive ability, is a core cognitive element that supports children’s mathematical processing. However, there have only been a few studies focusing on the effects of each component of executive function on different mathematical abilities (mathematical operation, spatial imagination, and logical thinking). Primary school is the key period during which children acquire basic mathematical ability. However, limited studies have examined the developmental relationships between the various components of executive function and the different mathematical abilities of children at different grade levels. Consequently, the purpose of this study was to examine the role of each component of executive function in the different mathematical abilities of children at different grade levels.

A total of 812 children in grades 3, 4, 5, and 6 completed tests covering mathematical operations, spatial imagination, and logical thinking to measure their basic mathematical ability. The Stroop task and the GO/NOGO task were used to measure interference inhibition and response inhibition. Children’s working memory span was assessed using forward and backward digit span tasks. Children’s working memory updating was investigated using simple and difficult digital updating tasks. Children’s cognitive flexibility was examined using digit shifting tasks. Finally, a correlation analysis and a structural equation model (SEM) were used to investigate the impact of each component of executive function on children’s mathematical abilities at different grade levels.

The results revealed that working memory was the most important factor affecting children’s mathematical skills, over inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility. Specifically, working memory span was the most statistically significant predictor of ability with respect to mathematical operations, while working memory updating was a stronger predictor of spatial imagination and logical thinking ability from grade 3 to grade 6. In a further analysis of the data, we divided the four grades into two stages, with grades 3 and 4 set as the younger group and grades 5 and 6 set as the older group. The results showed working memory span to be the most important predictor of mathematical operation ability, spatial imagination ability, and logical thinking ability in the junior grades. In the older students, the predictive effect of working memory span on basic math ability dropped, and the effects of working memory updating and cognitive flexibility on basic math ability increased.

These results indicate that different components of executive function play various roles in different mathematical abilities in school-age children, and that this pattern of influence appears to change as children progress through the grades. Specifically, the lower-order components of executive function components, specifically working memory span, were found to play an important role in the development of three mathematical abilities in younger students, while the higher-order executive function components, specifically working memory updating and cognitive flexibility, were found to play a more important role in processing mathematical tasks in older students.

Key words: executive function, mathematical abilities, primary school student, structural equation modeling