A new study suggests that having no math education after age 16 may be a disadvantage as teens who stopped studying math showed a reduction in a brain chemical critical to brain development. This reduction in brain chemical was found in a key brain area that supports mathematics, memory, learning, reasoning and problem solving And this amount of brain chemical successfully predicted cognitive performance 19 months later, researchers publish in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’.
Given that many students around the world have limited or no access to education during the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding the importance of math education in brain and cognitive development is especially pressing, the authors note. Adolescents who stopped studying mathematics showed a greater disadvantage – compared to their peers who continued studying mathematics – in terms of brain and cognitive development.
A total of 133 students between the ages of 14 and 18 participated in an experiment led by researchers from the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. Unlike most countries, 16-year-olds in the UK can decide to stop studying mathematics. This situation allowed the team to examine whether this specific lack of mathematics education in students from a similar background could affect brain development and cognition.
The study found that students who had not studied mathematics had less of a chemical crucial for brain plasticity (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in a key brain region that is involved in many important cognitive functions, such as reasoning, problem solving. problems, mathematics, memory and learning.
Based on the amount of brain chemical found in each student, the researchers were able to discriminate between adolescents who were studying or not studying mathematics, regardless of their cognitive abilities. Additionally, the amount of this brain chemical successfully predicted changes in math achievement scores about 19 months later. In particular, the researchers found no difference in brain chemical before the teens stopped studying math.
Roi Cohen Kadosh, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Oxford and director of the study, “mathematical skills are associated with a number of benefits, such as employment, socioeconomic status, and mental and physical health.” “Adolescence is an important period of life that is associated with important brain and cognitive changes,” he adds. Unfortunately, the possibility of stopping studying mathematics at this age appears to cause a gap between adolescents who drop out of their mathematics 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 highlights.
As he points out, “it is not yet known how this disparity can be prevented, nor its long-term implications. Not all teenagers enjoy math, so we must investigate possible alternatives, such as training in logic and reasoning, which involve the same brain area as mathematics.
Professor Cohen Kadosh adds that, ‘although we started this line of research before COVID-19, I also wonder how the reduction of access to education in general, and mathematics in particular (or the lack of it due to the pandemic) in the brain and cognitive development of children and adolescents. Although we still do not know the long-term influence of this interruption, our study provides an important understanding of how the lack of a single component in education, mathematics, can affect the brain and behavior, “he concludes.