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Math Ability Tied to Communication Among Brain Regions

By Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 30, 2012

Math Ability Tied to Communication Among Brain RegionsAre you weak in math? Perhaps it is because your brain regions do not communicate well, suggests a new study.

Researchers have found that the strength of communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain predicts performance on basic arithmetic problems.

The findings help to explain the importance of neural connections for human math abilities. Researchers say the knowledge may also aid individuals suffering from dyscalculia — an inability to understand and manipulate numbers.

Experts have known that the parietal cortex, the top/middle region of the brain, plays a central role in so-called numerical cognition, that is, the ability to process numerical information.

Brain imaging studies have also 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.

Until the new finding, researchers did not know if the two hemispheres can work together to improve math performance.

In the new study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to measure the brain activity 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 parietal cortex.

However, a valuable new finding of the research was the discovery that communication between the left and right hemispheres increased significantly during arithmetic tasks (as compared to activity during number-matching tasks).

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 Denise C. Park, Ph.D.

Lead author Joonkoo Park, Ph.D., points out that the findings suggest that disrupted or inefficient neural communication between the hemispheres may contribute to the impaired math abilities 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.”

In theory, training programs could be developed to improve math ability in children. These programs may also help older adults whose arithmetic skills begin to falter as a normal part of age-related cognitive decline.

Source: University of Texas –Dallas

Abstract of numbers photo by shutterstock.

 

APA Reference
Nauert, R. (2012). Math Ability Tied to Communication Among Brain Regions. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2012/08/30/math-ability-tied-to-communication-among-brain-regions/43914.html