Scientists linked math ability to “number sense”

Specialists of Belgorod State National Research University in the team of scientists are studying the parameters of human brain activity that can determine mathematical abilities.

Scientists from the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Neurotechnology of Belgorod State University and the Psychological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences base their work on the existence of a non-symbolic sense of number – a natural ability inherent in humans and some animals to approximately assess the number of objects without counting them. The sense of number helps us choose a bigger handful of candies, divide a set of small objects into roughly equal parts, or choose a shorter line in a store.

Humans, unlike animals, also have a symbolic sense of number associated with the use of numbers. The ability, which develops as we begin to learn mathematics, results in adults who mostly use just symbolic estimation of numbers. However, academic success in mathematics, experts believe, depends primarily on a non-symbolic sense of number.

“The main goal of our work is to study the psychophysiological systems of non-symbolic number sense, to establish the brain areas associated with approximate number estimation, and to evaluate the contribution of each factor to the realization of mathematical ability. For this purpose, we study the brain activity exhibited when performing mathematical tasks,” says Marina Lobaskova, head of the RFBR grant on “Cognitive and psychophysiological mechanisms of number sense”.