Vol. 9, No. 1, 2003 Page 5

Bipolar adolescents significantly impaired in mathematics

Teenagers with bipolar disorder (manic depression) also show significant deficits in mathematical ability, according to a new study by Diane Lagace and colleagues.

The researchers compared 44 adolescents in remission from bipolar disorder to a control group of teens with no history of psychiatric disease and to another group in remission from major depressive disorder. Administering academic and IQ tests to all three groups, the researchers found that the adolescents with bipolar disorder had "significantly lower achievement in mathematics," took longer to complete mathematics tasks, and were much less likely to report above-average mathematics performance in school than the other test groups. Also, girls with bipolar disorder had much lower mathematics scores than bipolar males, while the gender difference was not as marked in the other groups. No differences were seen in reading, spelling, and nonverbal intelligence scores.

School records showed that the bipolar teens tended to exhibit drops in math scores about a year before receiving a psychiatric diagnosis, the researchers note, arguing against a medication effect and indicating that brain changes lead to both math impairment and bipolar disorder. Preliminary brain scans conducted by the researchers indicate that bipolar teens have reduced tissue volumes in a frontal brain region involved in math calculations.


"Mathematics deficits in adolescents with bipolar I disorder," D. C. Lagace, S. P. Kutcher, and H. A. Robertson, American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 160, No. 1, January 2003, 100-4. Address: Diane Lagace, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Also, "Mental disorder may spur math problems in teens," Bruce Bower, Science News, January 11, 2003.

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