The main goal of our research group coordinated by Professor Maria Chiara Passolunghi is to explore the domain-specific and domain-general abilities and the different cognitive and emotive aspects involved in learning. In particular, we focus on precursors of mathematical ability and disability and on the development of working memory and number sense training to early improve mathematics achievement and prevent mathematical learning disability (MLD). We are also interested in the investigation of the emotional-motivational (e.g. Anxiety) and personality factors that may have a significant influence in the development of learning disabilities.

During the last three years, the lab attracted several source of funding from **Associations interested in developmental Psychology**:

1) A.B.C. Associazione per i Bambini Chirurgici del Burlo Onlus (www.abcburlo.it): financed a doctoral research program 2016-2019

Title: “Quality of life, emotive and cognitive aspects, related to surgical complex condition”

2) Auxilia Onlus (www.auxiliaitalia.it): financed a post doctoral fellow

Title: “Cognitive and emotional factor in early stage math acquisition”

3) AIPD Associazione Italiana Persone Down – SEZIONE MARCA TREVIGIANA (www.aipdmarcatrevigiana.it): financed a doctoral research program 2017-2020

Title: “Developmental paths of inhibitory processes in Down Syndrome: assessment and enhancement”

4) Fondazione Beneficientia Stiftung: financed the project “Matematica AMICA”. Part of the grant was used to finance a doctoral research program 2017-2020

Title: “Cognitive processes and emotional characteristics in children with developmental dyscalculia, mathematics anxiety and anxiety disorder”

**Institutional partners**

1) Trieste Town hall European Project “Euradria 2016”

2) Region FVG project on International Cooperation (L.R. 19/2000): title “Interventi di rilevanza psicologica nel contesto di progetti di cooperazione internazionale – programmazione e valutazione delle attività in favore dell’infanzia sviluppate nell’ambito del progetto "DIAMO UN FUTURO AGLI YAZIDI"

3) Region FVG project (L.R. 34/2015 articolo 5 commi 29-33): title “Valutazione di sistemi innovativi per la fruizione di siti di interesse storico-culturale da parte di persone con disabilità sensoriale e cognitiva nel ciclo di vita”

4) Region FVG program HEaD – POR FSE 2014-2020, impresa proponente Qualitazione Sas: title “Video sharing tematico per l’infanzia sulle piattaforme di social media – condizioni di mercato ed elementi caratterizzanti per la produzione di clip audiovisive didattiche e di intrattenimento aventi contenuti di numeracy e di approccio alla matematica”

The main lines of research on our lab are the following:

1) Precursors of mathematical learning: identification and training

2) Math-gender steretypes

3) The Approximate Number System and its relationship with mathematics

4) Math anxiety

5) Executive Functions in typical and atypical development

**1) ****Precursors of mathematical learning: identification and training**

According to us, the identification of domain-specific and domain-general precursors of early mathematical skills in preschool and primary school children is a good start to better understand and improve mathematical learning. Different studies indeed focused on single factors without take into account a more complete model (Hecht, Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, Krajewski & Schneider, 2009; De Smedt et al. 2009). In particolar, we focus on the different components of the working memory involved in the development of mathematics skills (Passolunghi & Mammarella, 2010; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2001) and on the aspect of number sense and its involvement in formal math learning (Gilmore et al., 2010; Halberda et al., 2008; Mazzocco et al., 2011). The detection of the more relevant precursors of mathematical learning is essential because their early monitoring allows the identification of children who can develop a math learning disability. In this way, it is possibile to set out different training procedures thus observing which of them can lead to the best improvements in math learning (Holmes, Gathercole and Dunning 2009; Thorell et al., 2009; Gestern et al., 2005). The possible positive transfer effect of training procedures to basic mathematical skills of children could demonstrate that is possible to intervene with children considered at risk to develop mathematical learning disabilities.

**2) ****Math–gender stereotypes**

Differences between males and females in mathematical ability are one of the oldest established findings in the area of gender differences (Kimura, 1999). Despite the abundant research on this phenomenon, its causes and the age at which it appears remain unclear (Gallagher & Kaufman, 2005).

Gender stereotypes that emphasize the conception that males are more competent in mathematics than females can greatly impact girls and women by impairing their math performance (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999) and math learning (Appel, Kronberger, & Aronson, 2011), and causing them to devalue their actual math ability while also placing less value on math success (Eccles, 2011). Despite this evidence, relatively few studies have examined math–gender stereotypes from childhood through early adolescence, and few works have investigated the relation between math–gender stereotypes and math-related beliefs in primary- and middle-school children.

In relation to this topic, our main research themes are the following:

(a) Emergence and development of gender differences in mathematical ability

(b) The presence of gender differences in mathematics performance

(c) The presence of differences in attitudes toward mathematics between males and females

(d) A conjunction of many factors that contribute to these differences (e.g. Math Anxiety)

**3) ****The Approximate Number System (ANS) and its relationship with mathematics **

The Approximate Number System (ANS) is a non-verbal primitive cognitive system that allows to represent and estimate numerical quantity in an imprecise and intutive way without using counting or numerical symbols (Budgen, DeWind, & Brannon, 2016). ANS acuity is the degree of precision of the internal quantity representation and there are large differences in ANS precision. Numerous studies have found a relationship between ANS abilities and mathematics, as an example in preschool children (Gilmore, McCarthy, & Spelke, 2010; Libertus, Odic, & Halberda, 2012; Mazzocco, Feigenson & Halberda, 2011). However, not all studies have found links between the ANS and mathematics achievement in children and the evidence for a relationship in adults is mixed (Feigenson, Libertus, & Halberda, 2013). It has also been argued that domain-general abilities mediate the relationship between ANS acuity and mathematical abilities, such as working memory (WM) or inhibitory control. In particular, some studies demonstrated that working memory abilities underlie nonsymbolic approximate addition processing (Barth et al. 2006; Rasmussen & Bisanz, 2005; Xenidou-Dervou, et al., 2013) suggesting that individual differences in approximation skills can be explained by individual differences in WM skills. Moreover, recent research findings suggest that the relationship between the ANS and mathematics may be the result of inhibition skills (Gilmore et al., 2013). The fact that the ANS might play a foundational role on later-learned mathematical abilities is a good start for interventions and training programmes.

In relation to this topic, our main research themes are the following:

(a) The investigation of the ANS system and its features

(b) The relationship between the ANS and mathematical abilities in prechool and primary school children

(c) The study of the ANS in typical and atipical development

**4) ****Math anxiety**

Math competence has been extensively studied in relation to cognitive factors such as intelligence, memory and processing speed. Conversely the role of affective aspects such as anxiety is frequently neglected and not well understood especially in relation with young student (e.g. Liew, McTigue, Barrois, & Hughes, 2008). Math anxiety is defined as dispositional and dysfunctional response to math tasks, even in absence of other form of anxiety. This type of response could imply avoiding behavior and high level of stress while performing this type of tasks (Hembree, 1990; Ashcraft & Ridley, 2005). A crucial aspect of this condition is that it could endure over time and have an effect on work choices (Faus, Ashcraft & Fleck, 1996; Ma & Xu, 2004). This connection has been investigated from middle school onwards.

In the lab we deal with two different aspects:

(a) The implementation of a series of studies on math anxiety in early stage of primary school

(b) The development of specific training and program on math anxiety

**5) Executive Functions in typical and atypical development**

Executive Functions (EF) are a set of cognitive processes necessary for the cognitive control of behaviour. This term includes basic cognitive processes such as attentional control, cognitive inhibition, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility.

These aspects are studied both in typical and atypical development. In particular open lines of research refer to the development of EF in persons with Down Syndrome (DS), children living in war context and children with complex surgical paths.

In particular referring to children with DS the few studies on this theme show contradictory results: some studies indicate significant differences between persons with typical development and DS (Shott & Holdfelder, 2015) while others show absence of differences (Rowe, Lavander, & Turk, 2006). These studies anyway could not be directly compare due to the different tasks selected for the experiments and the absence of a theoretical model universally recognized (Borella, Carretti, & Lanfranchi, 2013).

The research activities, promoted in the lab, tries to cover this lack of literature using both longitudinal and cross sectional studies.