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Numerical processing similar in children and adults, brain scans reveal

DURHAM, N.C. -- Four-year-olds who are still developing numerical abilities show activity in the same brain region during numerical tasks as do math-adept adults, Duke University researchers have found. Their comparative brain scan studies are the first to explore the earliest glimmerings of numerical processing in pre-school children.

The researchers said their findings represent the beginning of a promising new research pathway to explore how the brain wires itself during development to acquire mathematical skills.

The researchers reported in the May 2006 issue of the Public Library of Science Biology that a brain region called the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) is activated when both four-year-olds and adults perceive numerical quantities. The researchers used the analytical technique of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), in which harmless magnetic fields and radio waves image blood flow in brain regions, which reflects their activity.

Lead author on the paper was Jessica Cantlon, graduate student in the laboratory of co-author Elizabeth Brannon. They are in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Senior author on the paper was Kevin Pelphrey, and the other co-author was Elizabeth Carter, both in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. The studies were done in the joint Duke-University of North Carolina Brain Imaging and Analysis Center. The research was sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, the John Merck Fund and Duke.

"Lots of previous behavioral studies have shown that pre-school children can do basic math tasks before they ever get any formal math training in school," said Cantlon. "They can tell you that a bag of fifteen grapes has more things in it than a bag of five apples, even if they don't know how to verbally count very well. So, it seems like a basic set of math skills are laid down very early in de
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Contact: Monte Basgall
monte.basgall@duke.edu
919-681-8057
Duke University
10-Apr-2006


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