Math ability requires crosstalk in the brain

Math ability requires crosstalk in the brain
Examples of the simple numerical and arithmetic tasks used in the study. Participants were asked to judge whether the numerical operation was correct or not. Credit: Center for Vital Longevity, University of Texas at Dallas

A new study by researchers at UT Dallas' Center for Vital Longevity, Duke University, and the University of Michigan has found that the strength of communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain predicts performance on basic arithmetic problems. The findings shed light on the neural basis of human math abilities and suggest a possible route to aiding those who suffer from dyscalculia— an inability to understand and manipulate numbers.

It has been known for some time that the parietal cortex, the top/middle region of the brain, plays a central role in so-called numerical cognition—our ability to process numerical information. Previous brain imaging studies have shown that the right parietal region is primarily involved in basic quantity processing (like gauging relative amounts of fruit in baskets), while the left parietal region is involved in more precise numerical operations like addition and subtraction. What has not been known is whether the two hemispheres can work together to improve . The new study demonstrates that they can. The findings were recently published online in .

In the study, conducted in Dallas and led by Dr. Joonkoo Park, now a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University, researchers used , or fMRI, to measure the of 27 healthy young adults while they performed simple numerical and arithmetic tasks. In one task, participants were asked to judge whether two groups of shapes contained the same or different numbers of items. In two other tasks, participants were asked to solve simple addition and subtraction problems.

Consistent with previous studies, the researchers found that the basic number-matching task activated the right parietal cortex, while the addition and subtraction tasks produced additional activity in the left . But they also found something new: During the arithmetic tasks, communication between the left and right hemispheres increased significantly compared with the number-matching task. Moreover, people who exhibited the strongest connection between hemispheres were the fastest at solving the subtraction problems.

"Our results suggest that subtraction performance is optimal when there is high coherence in the neural activity in these two brain regions. Two brain areas working together rather than either region alone appears to be key" said co-author Dr. Denise C. Park, co-director of the UT Dallas Center for Vital Longevity and Distinguished University Chair in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Park (no relation to the lead author) helped direct the study along with Dr. Thad Polk, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

Lead author Dr. Joonkoo Park points out that the findings suggest that disrupted or inefficient neural communication between the hemispheres may contribute to the impaired seen in dyscalculia, the numerical equivalent of dyslexia. "If such a causal link exists," he said, "one very interesting avenue of research would be to develop training tasks to enhance parietal connectivity and to test whether they improve numerical competence."

Such a training program might help develop math ability in children and could also help older adults whose arithmetic skills begin to falter as a normal part of age-related cognitive decline.


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Aug 29, 2012
Fascinating, and makes one wonder if such inter-lateral processing isn't similarly effective with regard to other faculties...

Aug 29, 2012
Mathematics is not about the ability to do arithmetic calculations. I find mentioning math ability in the title misleading.

Aug 30, 2012
"Such a training program might help develop math ability in children and could also help older adults whose arithmetic skills begin to falter as a normal part of age-related cognitive decline."

Giving a child the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument or how to play chess would activate the same and other neural networks while increasing their intelligence and appreciation for culture.


Aug 30, 2012
Damned dyscalculia. I'm almost certain that I have that condition, as I've been terrible at maths for most of my life. Hopefully, this kind of research will lead to greater understandings of maths ability, and hopefully find ways of improving upon that ability.

Sep 02, 2012
Crosstalk is not what is going on in the brain when one lobe queries another. This is called, simply, talk. Crosstalk would be when one channel of information is modulated by the signal, data voltages, or noise, of an adjacent channel (or, near-enough-by (one)). Of course, it isn't cross talk, either (l: However, I was hoping when I saw the title that I was going to read that for some reason noise in neural circuits made better use of integers, since numbers are ineffective, unless error is allowed. (duck)

- Laarsø

Sep 03, 2012
It's interesting to note that musicians are typically noted for having above average mathematical ability and that their corpus callosum is highly developed.

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