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Training spatial cognition enhances mathematical learning in a randomized study of 17,000 children


Spatial and mathematical abilities are strongly associated. Here, we analysed data from 17,648 children, aged 6–8 years, who performed 7 weeks of mathematical training together with randomly assigned spatial cognitive training with tasks demanding more spatial manipulation (mental rotation or tangram), maintenance of spatial information (a visuospatial working memory task) or spatial, non-verbal reasoning. We found that the type of cognitive training children performed had a significant impact on mathematical learning, with training of visuospatial working memory and reasoning being the most effective. This large, community-based study shows that spatial cognitive training can result in transfer to academic abilities, and that reasoning ability and maintenance of spatial information is relevant for mathematics learning in young children.

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Fig. 1: Overview of the four training tasks and the percentages of time allocated to each in the five training plans.
Fig. 2: Predicted factor scores by test week, correlations with baseline mathematics and training curves of the density of children for each difficulty level and day of training.
Fig. 3: Effects of the training tasks on mathematical improvement.
Fig. 4: Predicted performance following differing amounts of VSWM and NVR training for different levels of baseline cognitive performance.

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Data availability

The data to replicate the main analysis (that is, mixed-effects model) are available at Data for the baseline characteristics and graphs in this study are available upon request from the corresponding author.

Code availability

The code to replicate the main analysis (that is, mixed-effects model) is available at Code for the baseline characteristics and graphs in this study is available upon request from the corresponding author.


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We acknowledge R. Almeida, D. Sjölander, J. Beckeman, B. Sauce and D. Zhang for extensive help with various aspects of the study. This work was supported by contributions from M. Westman and S. Westman, along with funding from The Swedish Medical Research Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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N.J. and T.K. contributed equally in all aspects of the study.

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Correspondence to Torkel Klingberg.

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T.K. holds an unpaid position as Chief Scientific Officer for the non-profit organization Cognition Matters. N.J. declares no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Human Behaviour thanks Kelly S. Mix and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Judd, N., Klingberg, T. Training spatial cognition enhances mathematical learning in a randomized study of 17,000 children. Nat Hum Behav 5, 1548–1554 (2021).

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