Neuroscience of Learning Arithmetic


Maybe I have told you in the a previous post that I tried to do some programming in Python. It was nice but extremely difficult. This old brain wasn’t quick enough to pick up the routine. Enjoyed it while it lasted but took a lot of time and effort without much progress.

As you will probably know the human brain is capable of adaptation, not only in childhood but also in adulthood. Experience and learning can alter the brain, genetic predisposition also plays a role. Maybe learning to program needs to much adaption beyond my genetic predisposition.

During my medical education my gray matter increased mostly in the posterior and inferior parietal cortex bilaterally, as well as in the posterior hippocampus. In a study with medical students during and after a medical exam the graymatter in the posterior hippocampus continued to increase in the 3 months after the learning period. Results of this study suggest that learning a great amount of highly abstract information leads to a specific pattern of structural gray matter modifications. Also learning-induced changes of cerebral activation patterns have also been demonstrated.

Learning to programming and using algorithms as a lot like learning arrhythmic. What brain regions and their development are involved in learning arrhythmic?

Arithmetic requires different types of knowledge such as memory, attention and conceptual knowledge and several different parts of the brain. A number of studies have shown that number processing and calculation are mediated by a distributed network within the frontal brain regions and parietal lobes: angular gyrus (AG) bilaterally, bilateral horizontal intraparietal sulci, posterior parietal attention system.

How does learning arithmetic affect brain development?

  • In children and in adults, the gain of arithmetic expertise is characterized by a shift in activation from
    fronto-parietal networks to specific parietal areas.This shift indicates a change in the cognitive processes involved in task
    performance following practice, although in the case of children some of the changes observed might also bedue to brain maturation.
  • Practice leads to a decrease in activation in frontal brain areas. These areas sustain general-purpose processes such as working memory and attention control, and are likely to be involved in non automatised and complex calculation.
  • Practice also leads to a relative increase in activation within the left AG.
  • People with average calculation skills build expertise upon a preexisting cerebral network involved in arithmetic processing, as inter-individual arithmetic performance differences are observed to modulate activation within this network such as, for example, in the left AG. The proficiency of expert individuals is, however, a different matter. Calculation prodigies and abacus masters seem to recruit other cognitive processes and cerebral areas.

So due to my medical education other parts of my parietal lobe and hippocampus used all the adaptation juice and probably still are, so my other parietal parts refuse to adapt very quickly in order to allow me to learn how to program, harsh but simple.

Why is this important?

The acquisition of arithmetic competence is a precondition for successful participation in social and professional life as well as for effective exercise of citizenship in a numerate society. Individuals with deficits in numerical and arithmetic processing face limitations in their autonomy and have poor chances to qualify for adequate professional occupation. Improved knowledge on the acquisition of arithmetic skills and concepts is not only essential in the case of disturbances (dyscalculia), but also for efficient teaching to normally achieving students.

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Neuroscience of Falling in Love

The Neuroscience of Interpersonal Space

Sex and Neuroscience

Neuroscience of Empathy
Zamarian, L., Ischebeck, A., & Delazer, M. (2009). Neuroscience of learning arithmetic—Evidence from brain imaging studies Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 33 (6), 909-925 DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2009.03.005