An fMRI investigation of instructional guidance in mathematical problem solving

Hee Seung Lee, Jon M. Fincham, Shawn Betts, John R. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


In this fMRI study, students learned to solve algebra-like problems in one of the four instructional conditions during behavioral session and solved transfer problems during imaging session. During learning, subjects were given explanatory or non-explanatory verbal instruction, and examples that illustrated the problem structure or the solution procedure. During transfer, participants solved problems that required complex graphical parsing and problems that required algebraic transformations. Explanatory instruction helped in the initial phase of learning, but this benefit disappeared in transfer. The example type had little effect on learning, but interacted with problem type in the transfer. Only for algebraic problems, the structural example led to better transfer than the procedural example. The imaging data revealed no effect of verbal instruction, but found that participants who had studied structural examples showed higher engagement in the prefrontal cortex and angular gyrus. Activity of the right rostrolateral prefrontal cortex in the initial transfer block predicted future mastery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-62
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Neuroscience and Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Jun

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education , through Grant R305A100109 to Carnegie Mellon University . Preliminary reports of portions of this work were presented at the annual meetings of the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (Washington, DC, September, 2011). We thank Aryn Pyke and Trudy Buwalda for valuable comments on the paper. Correspondence may be directed to Hee Seung Lee, Department of Education, Yonsei University , 50 Yonsei-ro, Seodaemu-gu, Seoul, South Korea (

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Education
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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