Neurons in the brain are activated when a human is working out a maths calculation, with some of the nerve cells “springing into action” during additions and others during subtractions, latest evidence has identified.

Researchers from the Universities of Tübingen and Bonn used electrodes to examine the brains of nine participants whilst they completed arithmetic sums to assess the activity of their nerve cells.

First author, Professor Florian Mormann said: “We found that different neurons fired during additions than during subtractions.”

Fellow researcher, Esther Kutter said: “Even when we replaced the mathematical symbols with words, the effect remained the same.

“For example, when subjects were asked to calculate five and three, their addition neurons sprang back into action; whereas for seven minus four, their subtraction neurons did.”

During the study, the scientists recorded the participant’s neurological activity by importing the cells’ activity patterns and what arithmetical task the group was completing into a software system.

The team of academics found that the nerve cells in the brain programmed a numerical calculation into an action.

In addition, they discovered that ‘dynamic coding’ was present in the brains of the participants, meaning the cells were constantly changing location.

Professor Mormann added: “This study marks an important step towards a better understanding of one of our most important symbolic abilities, calculating with numbers.”

The full research investigation is now available in the journal Current Biology.

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