Sensorimotor ability and inhibitory control independently predict attainment in mathematics in children and adolescents

Publication authors

John P. Pickavance, Oscar T. Giles, J. Ryan Morehead, Faisal Mushtaq, Richard M. Wilkie, Mark Mon-Williams


We previously linked interceptive timing performance to mathematics attainment in 5- to 11-yr-old children, which we attributed to the neural overlap between spatiotemporal and numerical operations. This explanation implies that the relationship should persist through the teenage years. Here, we replicated this finding in adolescents (n = 200, 11–15 yr). However, an alternative explanation is that sensorimotor proficiency and academic attainment are both consequences of executive function. To assess this competing hypothesis, we developed a measure of a core executive function, inhibitory control, from the kinematic data. We combined our new adolescent data with the original children’s data (total n = 568), performing a novel analysis controlling for our marker of executive function. We found that the relationship between mathematics and interceptive timing persisted at all ages. These results suggest a distinct functional link between interceptive timing and mathematics that operates independently of our measure of executive function.

NEW & NOTEWORTHY Previous research downplays the role of sensorimotor skills in the development of higher-order cognitive domains such as mathematics: using inadequate sensorimotor measures, differences in “executive function” account for any shared variance. Utilizing a high-resolution, kinematic measure of a sensorimotor skill previously linked to mathematics attainment, we show that inhibitory control alone cannot account for this relationship. The practical implication is that the development of children’s sensorimotor skills must be considered in their intellectual development.