Have you ever wondered why you are decent at Mathematics? Well, it isn’t just because of wonderful Mrs. Gunderson who taught you in high school. It’s because certain parts of your brains have more ‘wires’, or neurons, connecting them.
Division of Labor—Recognizing Quantities and Computing Are Done by Two Different Halves
There is a region of the brain called the parietal cortex that performs the role of numerical cognition. Additionally the left and the right halves of this cortex perform different parts of this activity. While the right parietal cortex primarily processes quantities, i.e. this half confers an intuitive sense of the magnitudes of numbers and their relationships, the left half performs numerical operations. What has remained unknown is how these two halves work together while we perform arithmetic that requires the functions of both halves.
Greater Neural Crosstalk Improves Arithmetic Ability
Researchers at the University of Texas and the University of Michigan used functional MRI to image the brains of 27 adults and found that the neural connectivity between the left and the right parietal cortex increased in each of these individuals when they were given mathematical problems to solve. Individual participants who were faster at performing the arithmetic tasks (subtraction in this case) were found to have greater connectivity between the two halves, whereas no such correlation was found between speed of computing and activity within each half. This implies that the speed at which we compute depends to some extent on how fast numerical quantities and operations transmit between the two halves of the cortex.
Before some of us rush to place the blame for our mathematics grades on our genes, it should be noted that the brain is remarkably plastic. The more we work on something, the better the brain becomes at it. The neural structure of our brains might be a result of extensive mathematics practice rather than inherited. This study therefore reflects the mechanism, and not the cause of arithmetic ability. Thus, you might just have to thank Mrs. Gunderson for your enhanced neuronal structure after all.
You can read about this research here.