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Science. 1999 May 7;284(5416):970-4.

Sources of mathematical thinking: behavioral and brain-imaging evidence.

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Unité INSERM 334, Service Hospitalier Frédéric Joliot, CEA/DSV, 91401 Orsay Cedex, France.


Does the human capacity for mathematical intuition depend on linguistic competence or on visuo-spatial representations? A series of behavioral and brain-imaging experiments provides evidence for both sources. Exact arithmetic is acquired in a language-specific format, transfers poorly to a different language or to novel facts, and recruits networks involved in word-association processes. In contrast, approximate arithmetic shows language independence, relies on a sense of numerical magnitudes, and recruits bilateral areas of the parietal lobes involved in visuo-spatial processing. Mathematical intuition may emerge from the interplay of these brain systems.

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