Bad at maths? Scientists say you may actually have a disability

Stressed Math Student

Bad at maths? Scientists say you may actually have a disability

Consider yourself fairly intelligent yet struggle with basic maths when paying for your coffee? Ever worked on a till and felt the sheer panic of it crashing and you having to work out the change yourself?

You may be interested to hear that scientists have developed a theory that those who struggle with arithmetic may actually have a maths disability that’s similar to dyslexia.

The article, conducted by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center and Stanford University, suggests that people who are bad at maths may struggle to process numbers in the same part of the brain where dyslexic people struggle to process words.

It stems from abnormalities in areas of the brain that support procedural memory – the memory system used for skills that don’t require conscious thought, such as walking, talking and riding a bike.

When you first learn a new skill – like maths or driving – you use your declarative memory (the part of your memory that can is consciously stored and recalled) but once you’ve practised it enough, it becomes automatised in your procedural memory, where you don’t have to think about it when you’re doing it.

‘For some children with math disability, procedural memory may not be working well, so math skills are not automatised,’ explains lead author Tanya M. Evans, PhD student at Stanford University.

Given that the development of math skills involves their automatisation, it makes sense that the dysfunction of procedural memory could lead to math disability,’ says senior researcher Michael T. Ullman, PhD, professor of neuroscience at Georgetown.

‘In fact, aspects of math that tend to be automatised, such as arithmetic, are problematic in children with math disability. Moreover, since these children often also have dyslexia or developmental language disorder, the disorders may share causal mechanisms.’


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