New Study Finds Opting out of advanced math education alters adolescents’ neural development

A brain imaging study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found evidence that missing out on math education can alter neural development. Young adults who had chosen not to pursue advanced math had lower levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) within the middle frontal gyrus when compared to students who were continuing their math education. Importantly, these changes were not evident prior to students’ decision to continue math or not.

While the disadvantages of a lack of education have been well established, the impact of missing out on a specific type of learning is less clear. Study authors George Zacharopoulos and his team proposed that a lack of math education might be associated with neural changes in particular brain regions that are implicated in mathematics.

The researchers hypothesized that they would observe reduced GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, among students lacking math education. Given evidence that the left frontoparietal regions are strongly implicated in mathematical learning, they expected to see these differences in these areas — specifically the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and the middle frontal gyrus (MFG).

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