Overview of Neurological Location of Mathematical Activities in the Brain

Compiled by Kaveh Farrokh (Ph.D.), Counsellor & Learning Specialist at Langara College Counselling Department.


Advances in Neurology have led to findings with respect to which areas of the brain are implicated in mathematical tasks. There appear to be distinct areas with respect to mathematical calculation tasks versus higher reasoning activities (understanding of schemas and concepts).

More specifically, higher (mathematical) reasoning is mainly focused in the pre-frontal cortex area (Goel & Dolan, 2004) with the intra-parietal sulci and the angular gyrus becoming active when the learner engages in more basic mathematical tasks (Butterworth, 2006; Donlan, 2003, Gruber et al., 2001; Pesenti et al., 2000). Conversely when these same brain areas (intra-parietal sulci and angular gyrus) suffer damage, the learner’s ability to engage in calculation becomes impaired.


Butterworth, B. (2006). Mathematical Expertise. In K. A. Ericsson (ed.), Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 553-568.

Donlan, C. (2003). The early numeracy of children with specific language impairments. In A. J. Baroody & A. D. Dowker (Eds.), The Development of Arithmetic Concepts and Skills: Constructing Adaptive Expertise, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 337– 358.

Goel, V., & Dolan, R. J. (2004). Differential involvement of left prefrontal cortex in inductive and deductive reasoning. Cognition, 93 (3), pp. B109–B121.

Gruber, O., Indefrey, P., Steinmetz, H., & Kleinschmidt, A. (2001). Dissociating neural correlates of cognitive components in mental calcu- lation. Cerebral Cortex, 11, pp. 350–359.

Pesenti, M., Thioux, M., Seron, X., & De Volder, A. (2000). Neuroanatomical substrates of Arabic number processing, numerical comparison and simple addition: A PET study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 12 , 461–479.

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