Scientists at Oxford University have shown that the amounts of two neurotransmitters in the brain may be related to a greater or lesser ability to solve mathematical problems.
Researchers knew that glutamate and another neurotransmitter called Gaba are linked to learning; but by measuring the levels of these substances in the brains of 255 people — from six-year-olds to college-age youngsters — and comparing the results with math tests, scientists found that neurotransmitters play complementary roles in promoting the ability with numbers. .
In the experiment, greater amounts of the neurotransmitter Gaba in the brains of the youngest were related to greater math ability, while smaller amounts of glutamate indicated greater success with the numbers.
In young adults, the results were reversed – the more glutamate and less Gaba, the better the results when doing calculations. That is, the role of neurotransmitters changes over time.
The measurement was made with MRI scans. Tests to assess mathematical ability included tests of mathematical operations and logic, among others.
The study helps to understand a little more the role of substances in the acquisition of such a complex – and necessary – type of knowledge. “While some people consider mathematics intuitive and succeed in this topic, it is estimated that one in five people struggle with this area,” write the scientists in the article that brought the results, published July 22 in the scientific journal Plos Biology.
“Success in mathematics is associated with the well-being of the entire society, including educational progress, socioeconomic status, employment, salary, physical and mental health and financial difficulties. Thus, success in this area is the basis for a prosperous society and an important tool for social mobility”, complete the authors.
According to Roi Cohen Kadosh, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Oxford University and coordinator of the study, the results could help develop interventions directly in the brain to improve the ability to do math. But until then, the way is to become friends with numbers by studying the old-fashioned way — doing a lot of calculus.