Evidence from brain imaging studies indicates that areas of the parietal lobe are fundamental in calculating and processing numbers (1), while areas of the frontal lobe are involved in the recall of numerical knowledge and working memory (3,. The idea of using brain scans to predict mathematical ability raises uncomfortable questions about the biological basis of achievement. Now, new research from a Stanford University neuroscience laboratory finds evidence that, in fact, differences in brain geography strongly affect how people develop in mathematics. In a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a pair of researchers from the Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit of INSERM-CEA, in France, reported that the areas of the brain involved in mathematics are different from those dedicated to non-mathematical thinking, which is just as complex.

This could mean that the neural resources needed to understand and work with certain mathematical concepts could weaken or “exhaust” some of the brain's other capacities. Evans and his colleagues plan to use brain scans to identify children who are at risk of having difficulties with mathematics (rather than being destined to have difficulties) and provide them with interventions that change the shape of their brains.