Development is in the details: Event-related theta oscillations reveal children and adults verify multiplication facts differently

Matthew Wood, Amandine E. Grenier, Nicole Y.Y. Wicha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


When verifying the correctness of single-digit multiplication problems, children and adults show a robust ERP correctness effect thought to reflect similar cognitive processes across groups. Recent studies suggest that this effect is instead a modulation of the negative-going N400 component in children, reflecting access to semantic memory, and the positive-going P300 component in adults, reflecting stimulus categorization. However, the relative difference in ERP amplitude is the same for both components, more positive for correct than incorrect solutions, presenting a challenge to ascertaining the appropriate interpretation. Time-frequency analysis (TFA) of the N400/P300 window provides an objective approach to dissociating these effects. TFA measured from solution onset during single-digit multiplication verification revealed significant modulations of event-related as theta power (3–6 Hz) in both groups. Correct trials elicit less power in children (9–12 years) and more power in adults relative to incorrect trials. These findings are consistent with modulations of the N400 and P300, respectively, where opposite effects were predicted for spectral power. The ERP results further support a reinterpretation of the multiplication correctness effect. In contrast, TFA of the N400 effect elicited to a word-picture verification task revealed the same event-related theta effect in both groups, with increased power for mismatched than matched pictures. Together, these findings provide evidence for a developmental shift in cognitive processing specific to the multiplication task. Models of arithmetic should account for this overlooked difference in cognitive processing between children and adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • N400
  • P300
  • arithmetic
  • children
  • event related potentials
  • math cognition
  • multiplication verification
  • theta power
  • time-frequency analysis
  • word-picture verification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology


Dive into the research topics of 'Development is in the details: Event-related theta oscillations reveal children and adults verify multiplication facts differently'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this