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Acquisition of Mathematical Concepts in the Human Brain

Acquisition of Mathematical Concepts in the Human Brain

Objective

How do humans learn and manipulate mathematical concepts? In previous research, I have shown that (1) advanced mathematical reflection on concepts encoded for many years does not recruit the brain circuits for language; (2) non-verbal acquisition of geometrical rules call upon a language of thought that is independent of natural spoken language. However, the question remains to understand whether advanced mathematical acquisition in schools, where knowledge is taught verbally, also dispenses with the human ability for language. Building on the expertise I have acquired in functional MRI testing of math experts, with the help of my supervisors, the present project proposes to track the evolution of children and adults' brain activity during learning. To this end, we will expose participants to typical classroom lessons with math-related content. Using fMRI, coupled with traditional general linear model and original inter-subject correlation analyses, we particularly aim to investigate whether (1) similar learning neural mechanisms are at work in adulthood and childhood; (2) language plays a role in mathematical acquisition; (3) understanding dropout correlates with a specific neural marker. A first experiment will aim to identify brain activation that changes with learning of math versus general semantic concepts in adults. It will be conducted in Italy, under the supervision of Pr. Piazza who is a leading expert in the field of math cognition, and mainly uses fMRI to study the plastic changes occurring in the brain during learning in particular of symbols (words, numbers, and math symbols). A second experiment will probe whether the neural patterns observed during adult learning of math laws also apply to children's learning of math laws such as commutativity. It will be conducted in the US, under the supervision of Pr. Spelke who is renowned for her work on the infants’ development especially of math “core knowledge”.
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Coordinator

UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO

Address

Via Calepina 14
38122 Trento

Italy

Activity type

Higher or Secondary Education Establishments

EU Contribution

€ 246 844,32

Partners (1)

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PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 839611

Status

Grant agreement signed

  • Start date

    1 September 2020

  • End date

    31 May 2023

Funded under:

H2020-EU.1.3.2.

  • Overall budget:

    € 246 844,32

  • EU contribution

    € 246 844,32

Coordinated by:

UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TRENTO

Italy