About Our Research

Ten Year Adolescent Math Study, 2004-2013

If you are a participating family, we would like to thank you and your adolescent for all of your time and contributions to the MU Math Study. This study is the only one of its kind in the nation and covered the mathematical development of 334 children from Kindergarten through 9th grade algebra.

In 2002, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development developed a new program area entitled Mathematics and Science Cognition and Learning, Development and Disorders. The objectives of this program are to explore the critical genetic, neurobiological, cognitive, linguistic, socio-cultural, and instructional factors that influence normal and atypical development in math and science. The Cognitive Development Lab in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri was one of a select few research centers that were initially funded under this program area. As you may recall, the information generated during the first five years (2004-2008) of the study was so promising, it was extended by the National Institutes of Health through the end of 9th grade. This enabled us to follow the math development of 334 students. Many of them remained in the study and participated from Kindergarten through 9th grade.

These students and their families participated by allowing us to do activities (reading, math, and memory tasks) with the students 2-3 times per year, and by keeping in touch with us so that we could compare data across years as the students got older. Dr. David Geary and the math study team would like to thank these families, Columbia Public Schools, and all the teachers and principals that have helped us conduct this study.


The purpose of this study was to document the development of the mathematical skills of children with learning difficulties and their typically-achieving peers. The goal was to identify the basic cognitive systems (for example, memory) that underlie difficulties with math, leading to refined diagnostic techniques and the development of improved remediation tools.

As just a few examples, the study has allowed us to:

  • develop and validate a test to screen for risk of learning difficulties in mathematics as early as kindergarten and first grade. The test is now used by research groups and in educational settings in many parts of this country, Europe, and East Asia.
  • identify the core number skills that children need at school entry to have long-term success in mathematics.
  • identify the deficits that underlie learning disabilities in mathematics; these findings and the methods we developed to assess the deficits provide the basis for educational interventions that are being developed and validated in collaboration with colleagues at Vanderbilt University.
  • extend our methods and results to brain imaging studies of how typically achieving and learning disabled children learn arithmetic in collaboration with colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine.
  • explore how children's early understanding of numbers influences their later ease of learning fractions, and extend the cognitive study of children's learning difficulties to algebra

It will take us several more years to complete all of the data analyses based on this study. We will provide periodic updates of our new findings on our website.

Research Articles and Chapters from the Study

  • Geary, D. C., Nicholas, A., Li, Y. & Sun, J. (2017). Developmental change in the influence of domain-general abilities and domain-specific knowledge on mathematics achievement: An eight-year longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109, 680–693.
  • Li, Y., & Geary, D. C. (2017). Children’s visuospatial memory predicts mathematics achievement through early adolescence. PLoS ONE, 12(2): e0172046.
  • Geary, D. C., & Menon, V. (in press). Fact retrieval deficits in mathematical learning disability: Potential contributions of prefrontal-hippocampal functional organization. In M. Vasserman, & W. S. MacAllister (Eds.), The Neuropsychology of Learning Disorders: A Handbook for the Multi-disciplinary Team, New York: Springer.
  • Mou, Y, Li, Y., Hoard, M. K., Nugent, L., Chu, F., Rouder, J., & Geary, D. C. (2016). Developmental foundations of children’s fraction magnitude knowledge. Cognitive Development, 39, 141-153.
  • Geary, D. C., Hoard, M. K., Nugent, L., & Rouder, J.N. (2015). Individual differences in algebraic cognition: Relation to the approximate number and semantic memory systems. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 140, 211-227.
  • Geary, D. C. (2015). The classification and cognitive characteristics of mathematical disabilities in children. In R. C. Kadosh & A. Dowker (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Numerical Cognition (767-786). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Bailey, D. H., Watts, Littlefield, A. K., & Geary, D. C. (2014). State and trait effects on individual differences in children’s mathematical development. Psychological Science, 25, 2017-2026.
  • Rouder, J. N., & Geary, D. C. (2014). Children’s cognitive representation of the mathematical number line. Developmental Science, 17, 525-536.
  • Geary, D. C. (2013). Early foundations for mathematics learning and their relations to learning disabilities. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 23-27.