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‘Math’ Neurons In The Brain Are Fired During Mental Math, Study Finds

Math Neurons In The Brain Are Fired During Mental Math

Brain News – Two teams of researchers in German universities studied how certain mathematical tasks are done by particular neurons in different areas of the human brain. They now look to investigate the individual roles brain areas and nerve cells play in mental math.

A new study reveals how particular neurons in the human brain specifically fire up during certain mathematical operations.

The study was conducted by two teams at the Universities of Bonn and Tübingen.

The researchers studied nine patients (five women and four men) who were undergoing treatment for epilepsy. They had electrodes implanted in the temporal lobes of their brains to record neuronal activity. Then, they were asked to perform simple arithmetic tasks with two different mathematical rules, addition and subtraction. Mathematical symbols and their verbal equivalents were used to instruct the participants about the mathematical tasks.

The researchers also compared the neuronal correlation for mental math in both humans and nonhuman primates.The findings, published in Current Biology, show the link between working memory, arithmetic rule-selectivity of neurons in the brain, and mental math.

The results reveal that different neurons in one of the brain regions, the parahippocampal cortex, are activated during additions than during subtractions. The ‘rule-selective’ neurons, however, show no response to learned mathematical symbols. Even when the mathematical symbols are replaced with words, the effect remains the same.

The researchers also discovered that the rule-selective neurons respond to other types of mathematical rules. Their numerical coding capacities are not fixed. They encode different types of numerical information according to the demands of the task, while maintaining their initially encoded arithmetic rules. For instance, different ‘addition’ and ‘subtraction’ neurons became active during nonsymbolic mathematical tasks like “greater than” (>) and “less than” (<) operations. They referred to this as “dynamic coding”.

The study therefore confirms the mathematical tuning of certain neuronal networks in areas of the brain. It also sheds light on their flexible numerical coding capacities and the human brain’s ability to specialize information in order to meet specific task demands.

One of the lead authors, Prof. Florian Mormann, stressed, “This study marks an important step towards a better understanding of one of our most important symbolic abilities, namely calculating with numbers.”

To Know More You May Refer To

Kutter, E. F., Boström, J., Elger, C. E., Nieder, A., & Mormann, F. (2022). Neuronal codes for arithmetic rule processing in the human brain. Current Biology.

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