(Lack of) neural efficiency related to general giftedness and mathematical excellence: An EEG study

Ilana Waisman, Clemens Brunner, Roland H. Grabner, Mark Leikin, Roza Leikin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies on intelligence have demonstrated that higher abilities are associated with lower brain activation, indicating a higher neural efficiency. In other words, more able individuals use fewer brain resources. However, it is unclear whether the neural efficiency phenomenon also appears for mathematical performance, which is influenced by both domain-general giftedness and domain-specific competencies. Therefore, this study examined the effects of general giftedness (G) and excellence in mathematics (EM) on performance and brain activation while solving learning-based mathematical tasks that required translation from graphical to symbolic representations of functions. Overall, 118 high school students (aged 16–18) participated in the present study and were divided according to G and EM using a 2 × 2 study design. Participants worked on a function task requiring translation between symbolic and graphical representations of functions. Analyses of the behavioral data revealed positive effects of both G and EM on the accuracy of solutions and an interaction effect of both factors on reaction times, reflecting a positive effect of EM only among the gifted individuals. EEG analyses focused on oscillatory activity in the theta and alpha frequency bands and showed a significant effect of EM in the upper alpha band (10–12 Hz) event-related desynchronization (ERD) for both graphical and symbolic representations. Specifically, higher (compared to lower) EM was associated with a larger alpha ERD, indicating a higher level of brain activity. This stands in contrast with the neural efficiency phenomenon. These findings suggest that the neural efficiency phenomenon cannot be generalized to higher-order mathematical demands in high-performing individuals. Several explanations for this limitation are offered.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108448
StatePublished - 28 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd


  • Excellence in mathematics
  • Giftedness
  • Learning-based task
  • Neural efficiency
  • Representations of functions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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