Effects of cortical polarization on mental arithmetic

Paul Pauli, Hans Schleichert, Lyle E. Bourne, Niels Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A biofeedback procedure was used to influence participants' cortical polarity before the presentation of single digit multiplication problems. To ensure that participants could solve the problems by direct memory retrieval of arithmetic facts, only nine different multiplication problems were used, and participants received extensive pre-experimental practice on these problems. After biofeedback training, cortical positivity before problem presentation was associated with faster response initiation times, a measure of mental calculation time, for correctly solved problems and with more multiplication errors than cortical negativity. Response execution time, a measure of motor speed, was not affected by cortical polarity. The shift in positivity from the amplitude of the slow cortical potential (SCP) before problem presentation to the amplitude of the positive slow wave (pSW) after problem presentation was less in positivity-required compared to negativity- required trials, mainly because of the manipulation of SCP starting points by biofeedback. We assume that cortical positivity is associated with direct retrieval of arithmetic facts, more precisely with the inhibition of incorrect answers. Cortical positivity before task presentation results in a reduced positive shift, a sign of less inhibition before answer production. The effect of less inhibition during positivity-required trials is to produce faster responses and more errors. The opposite might to be true of cortical negativity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages8
JournalCognitive Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1998


  • Biofeedback
  • Cortical polarization
  • Memory retrieval
  • Mental arithmetic
  • Positive slow wave (pSW)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of cortical polarization on mental arithmetic'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this