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Sources of mathematical thinking: behavioral and brain-imaging evidence.

Does the human capacity for mathematical intuition depend on linguistic competence or on visuo-spatial representations? A series of behavioral and brain-imaging experiments provides evidence for both sources. Exact arithmetic is acquired in a language-specific format, transfers poorly to a different language or to novel facts, and recruits networks involved in word-association processes. In contrast, approximate arithmetic shows language independence, relies on a sense of numerical magnitudes, and recruits bilateral areas of the parietal lobes involved in visuo-spatial processing. Mathematical intuition may emerge from the interplay of these brain systems.

Pubmed ID: 10320379


  • Dehaene S
  • Spelke E
  • Pinel P
  • Stanescu R
  • Tsivkin S


Science (New York, N.Y.)

Publication Data

May 7, 1999

Associated Grants

  • Agency: NICHD NIH HHS, Id: HD23103

Mesh Terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe
  • Humans
  • Intuition
  • Language
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Parietal Lobe
  • Thinking