On March 8th, 2015 we learned about

Your brain may be built for math

Forget what your SAT scores may have indicated— you actually are adept at math. Or at least arithmetic. Recent studies have found that we have processing centers in our brains that help calculate quantities, and they work very well.

From an archaeological perspective, numbers were invented abruptly, entering human records a few thousand years ago. But the fundamentals of math obviously weren’t, so just because our ability to communicate and manipulate numbers was an invention doesn’t mean our comprehension of numbers was lagging. So as with many tests for fundamental capabilities, researchers looked at babies to see what a human brain could do before being shaped by it’s experiences.

Babies were shown different images of dots, varying in color, size, and occasionally quantity. The babies indicated (through paying more attention) that they detected the changes in quantity of dots, especially when the difference in quantity was larger. Knowing that human brains seemed to have some innate appreciation for numbers, similar images of dots were shown to adults wearing an EEG cap.

The EEG monitored brain activity to try to isolate the activity related to recognizing numbers. A clear pattern emerged, and recognizing changes in numbers could be reliably correlated to activity in the back of the brain, indicating a structure at least partially specialized in that kind of processing. What’s more, the processing of quantities was very fast. In just 75 milliseconds after seeing a new number of dots, the quantitative center was activated, even before the rest of the qualitative visual processing had been completed.

Source: We Are Instant Number Crunchers by Carl Zimmer, The Loom

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