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I've tried to google this but everything that comes up are things like "mathematical neuroscience" rather than the other way around.

Specifically, I'm interested in the workings of a mathematician's brain that sets her apart from others. For example, is there evidence to be found in MRI scans or EEG recordings of mathematicians as to why they excel in math?

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    $\begingroup$ i think you are looking in wrong direction. Mathematicians are same species as other folks, so look for information on how brain processes mathematics, don't bother with occupation. This article might be of interest: phys.org/news11473.html It is not who does math, but rather what brain s doing. Or are you interested in how brains of accomplished mathematicians differ from that of artists? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 2:45
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    $\begingroup$ numbers seems pretty abstract to me. Maybe this paper will shed some more light: journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00068/… $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a cognitive science question cogsci.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 7:24
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    $\begingroup$ Since when is neurobiology off topic? $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ @GriffinEvo - Neurobiology questions and their overlap with Biology are hotly debated at CogSci. It is definitely on-topic there, but not because it is a better fit there. This question has a strong neuro-anatomy and neurobiology component and it is a borderline-case. Possibly the neurobiology debate needs to be addressed here at Bio as well. Anyway, I edited the question to make it more scientifically sound. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 11:45

1 Answer 1

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Short answer
People competent in mathematics have been shown to have higher activation of the left angular gyrus according to fMRI. EEG recordings have shown larger activity in the posterior parietal cortex.

Background
I think you are interested in what makes a good mathematician. A brain imaging study by Grabner et al. (2011). showed that the left anterior gyrus was more activated in individuals more competent in math. Specifically, the authors argue that the stronger left AG activity in the more competent subjects reflects a higher proficiency in processing mathematical symbols. The anterior gyrus is involved in mathematical symbol processing.

left angular gyrus
Left angular gyrus, lateral view. Source: Kenhub Neuroanatomy Atlas

ERP studies (event-related potentials deduced from the EEG) have shown higher activity in posterior parietal cortex in subjects excelling in math (Waisman et al., 2014). This region is associated with algebra and handling mathematical functions.

Posterior parietal cortex
Posterior parietal cortex among other regions not relevant to the question answer. Source: Live Science

References
Grabner et al. Front Hum Neurosci 2011; 5: 130
Waisman et al., Int J Sci Math Edu 2014; 12(3): 669-96

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    $\begingroup$ What type of Algebra? Algebra that everyone learns is a low form of mathematics. Being able to process Algebra doesn't necessary equate to a high competence in math. However, if by Algebra, you mean Abstract Algebra, Algebraic Geometry, Lie Algebras, Sigma Algebras, etc. this would be a different story. So what is meant by Algebra since I would be skeptical to someone simply good in Algebra $x+3 =5$ equates to math greatness. $\endgroup$
    – dustin
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ Quoting from the study: "A computerized test that required of the participants a translation between symbolic and graphical representations of function was designed with 60 tasks (trials) using E-Prime software. [...] The tasks we used in our study are basic items for the Israeli curriculum and were learned by all study participants in a similar way." $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ I actually think that this is a fairly good compromise. If we delve too deep into higher mathematics the available pool of subjects diminishes rapidly; on the other hand function manipulation is much closer to actual mathematical research than the plain numericity studies that @aandreev has been pointing out in his comments. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ @dustin - I tried to keep the answer short and sweet without too much detail on methods. But I am happy to edit.I $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 3:02
  • $\begingroup$ @SorcererofDM Israeli curriculum at what level? Even if it is just college math for non math majors, I don't think that reflects a mathematicians brain. If it is high school, that is substantial worse. All subjects should be MS, PhDs, Post Docs, and Professors (hence PhD). Anyone else else shouldn't be referred to as a Mathematician and mathematicians will say MS holders aren't mathematicians either but including wouldn't be wrong. $\endgroup$
    – dustin
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 3:10

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