Sources of Mathematical Thinking: Behavioral and Brain-Imaging Evidence

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Science  07 May 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5416, pp. 970-974
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5416.970

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Does the human capacity for mathematical intuition depend on linguistic competence or on visuo-spatial representations? A series of behavioral and brain-imaging experiments provides evidence for both sources. Exact arithmetic is acquired in a language-specific format, transfers poorly to a different language or to novel facts, and recruits networks involved in word-association processes. In contrast, approximate arithmetic shows language independence, relies on a sense of numerical magnitudes, and recruits bilateral areas of the parietal lobes involved in visuo-spatial processing. Mathematical intuition may emerge from the interplay of these brain systems.

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