Scientists at Oxford University have shown that the amount of two neurotransmitters in the brain may be related to greater or lesser ability to solve math problems.
The researchers knew that glutamate and another neurotransmitter called Gaba were linked to learning; But by measuring the levels of these substances in the brains of 255 people – from six-year-olds to college-age teenagers – and comparing the results with math tests, scientists found that neurotransmitters play a complementary role in promoting the ability to use numbers .
In the experiment, higher levels of the neurotransmitter Gaba in the youngest brains were linked to higher math ability, while lower levels of glutamate indicated greater success in numbers.
In young adults, the results were reversed – the more glutamate and less Gaba, the better the calculation results. That said, the role of neurotransmitters changes over time.
The measurement was made with MRI scans. Tests to assess math skills included tests on math operations and logic.
The study helps to better understand the role of substances in acquiring such complex – and necessary – knowledge. “While some people find math intuitive and successful at this subject, it is estimated that one in five struggles with this area,” the scientists write in the July 22nd article in the journal that produced the results Plos Biology was published.
“Success in math is related to the well-being of society as a whole, including educational progress, socio-economic status, employment, wages, physical and mental health, and financial difficulties. Success in this area is therefore the basis for a prosperous society and an important tool for social mobility, ”the authors add.
According to Roi Cohen Kadosh, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Oxford University and coordinator of the study, the results could help develop interventions directly in the brain to improve math skills. But until then, the way to go is to make friends with numbers by learning the old-fashioned way – lots of arithmetic.