Addition, subtraction, multiplication… What happens in our brain when we do math? A team of researchers from the universities of Tübingen and Bonn (Germany) have looked into the question. Their work has been published in journal Current Biologymid-February 2022 (source 1).
Nine volunteers, five women and four men, took part in the game. They had to solve a simple calculation in which each element appeared successively on a screen (the first number, the mathematical sign + or – and the second number). Thanks to a electrode systemplaced at the level of their temporal lobe, the scientists were able to analyze the activity of the nerve cells.
We observed that different neurons were activated during additions and during subtractions, explains Professor Florian Mormann in a press release from the University of Bonn (source 2).
Thereby, when the brain recognizes the + signthe addition neurons are activated. When he recognizes the sign –, it is the neurons of subtraction that start up. “Even when we replaced the mathematical symbols with words, the effect remained the same,” says Esther Kutter, a member of the research team.
“This study marks an important step towards a better understanding of one of our most important symbolic capacities, namely calculation with numbers”, concludes Professor Mormann. The Bonn and Tübingen teams now want to study more precisely the role played by these neurons.