Back to #Trending

The Relation between Math Education and Cognitive Development

By: Inas Essa

Needless to say, formal education has a long-term impact on an individual’s life in different aspects, whether related to employment, socio-economic status, mental and physical health, or financial stability. Although research on the effect of a specific lack of education, such as in mathematics, is not enough, a new study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Oxford worked on identifying the impact of the lack of mathematical education on the developing brain and the mutual effect between biology and education.

The new study suggests that not having any math education after the age of 16 can be disadvantageous for adolescent cognitive skills. Results of the study revealed that adolescents who stopped studying math showed a reduction in a critical brain chemical for brain development, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), compared to peers who continued studying it, suggesting a key role of mathematical attainment in neuroplasticity. This reduction in this brain chemical was found in a key brain area that supports math, memory, learning, reasoning, and problem-solving.



Studying Math and Cognitive Development

The experiment was conducted on 133 students between the ages of 14 and 18 years of age. It aimed to examine whether this specific lack of math education in students coming from a similar environment could impact brain development and cognition.

As the researchers could detect the amount of brain chemical crucial for brain plasticity (GABA) in each student, they were able to distinguish between adolescents who studied or did not study math as follows: students who did not study math had a lower amount of this important chemical for brain plasticity in a key brain region involved in different important cognitive functions, like reasoning, problem-solving, mathematics, memory, and learning. Moreover, the researchers did not find differences in the brain chemical before the adolescents stopped studying math.


Math Alternatives Are Required

Roi Cohen Kadosh, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Oxford who led the study said: "Adolescence is an important period in life that is associated with important brain and cognitive changes. Sadly, the opportunity to stop studying math at this age seems to lead to a gap between adolescents who stop their math education compared to those who continue it. Our study provides a new level of biological understanding of the impact of education on the developing brain and the mutual effect between biology and education.”

He describes this problem as being challenging in some cases since not every adolescent enjoys math. Therefore, investigating possible alternatives is required, such as training in logic and reasoning, which engage the same brain area as math does.