White matter in brain helps you add and multiply better
If you have problems adding and multiplying numbers, your white matter is to blame! A new study has found that 12-year-olds who score well in addition and multiplication have higher-quality white matter tracts. However, this correlation does not appear to apply to subtraction and division, researchers found said.
‘Grey’ cells process information in the brain and are connected via neutral pathways, the tracts through which signals are transferred. Neural pathways are comparable to a bundle of cables. These cables are surrounded by an isolating sheath: myelin, or ‘white matter’. The thicker the isolating sheath and the more cables there are, the more white matter, the faster the signals are transferred, said educational neuroscientist Bert de Smedt, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, KU Leuven in Belgium.
While the correlation between arithmetic and the white matter tracts linking certain brain regions is known, very little research has been done to test this is correlation in normally-developing children.
In the new study, researchers had 25 children solve a series of different arithmetic operations while undergoing a brain scan. They then compared the quality of the children’s white matter with their arithmetic test performance.
“We found that a better quality of the arcuate fasciculus anterior—a white matter tract that connects brain regions often used for arithmetic—corresponds to better performance in adding and multiplying, while there is no correlation for subtracting and dividing,” said de Smedt.
“A possible explanation for this is that this white matter bundle is involved in rote memorisation, whereas when we subtract and divide, such memorisation plays less of a role.”
“When subtracting and dividing we are more likely to use intermediary steps to calculate the solution, even as adults,” he added.”