This is your brain on math

A recent brain-imaging study connects left-right brain communication with performance on basic arithmetic tasks.  I’m fascinated by brain-imaging technology, which is not to say I know anything about it.  Apparently I’m not alone; in looking for an illustrative image, I found this abstract, which tells me that such images appeal to my “affinity for reductionistic explanations of cognitive phenomena.”  Guilty as charged.  Still, doesn’t this have some value to us non-experts? (Note to self:  never use the pejorative “reductionist,” even without the -ic at the end, to refer to people trying to get a sense of difficult mathematics without understanding all the details.)

As a left-handed person, I’m also interested in questions about brain asymmetry, since there are variations associated with handedness in the specifics of that asymmetry.  An accessible overview of what’s now known about left-handedness can be found in this NewYorkTimes article from 2011.  I tried to find evidence for my impression that left-handed people are over-represented among mathematicians, but that’s not so obvious after all.


About Priscilla Bremser

Professor of Mathematics Middlebury College
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