News Release

Math education and brain development

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Low levels of the brain's main inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA, in the left middle frontal gyrus are associated with lack of math education in adolescents, a study finds. Math education is associated with a range of benefits, including financial stability, socioeconomic status, employment, and health. The brain regions involved in math abilities have been characterized, but less is known about how the lack of math education may affect brain development. George Zacharopoulos, Francesco Sella, and Roi Cohen Kadosh addressed this question in 82 16- to 18-year-old students in the United Kingdom, where students can decide to stop math education at the age of 16 years. The authors used H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure GABA concentration in the left middle frontal gyrus, which plays a key role in reasoning, problem solving, and learning. Compared with students who continued math education beyond the age of 16, those who did not do so exhibited poorer performance on math tests and decreased GABA concentration in the middle frontal gyrus. Moreover, low GABA levels in this brain region were tied to poor mathematical reasoning scores 19 months later. Taken together, the findings suggest the interplay between math education and brain plasticity and may carry implications for educational policies and access to educational opportunities, according to the authors.


Article #20-13155: "The impact of a lack of mathematical education on brain development and future attainment," by George Zacharopoulos, Francesco Sella, and Roi Cohen Kadosh

MEDIA CONTACTS: George Zacharopoulos, University of Oxford, UNITED KINGDOM; email: <>; Roi Cohen Kadosh, University of Oxford, UNITED KINGDOM; tel: +44(0)7500 863570; email: <>

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