Does Studying Math Change your Brain?

Math is the bane of many students lives. They dread encountering it and when they do encounter it, they treat it half-heartedly. The main excuse that is foremost on their lips is that ‘they would never get to use algebra and quadratic equations in the real world anyway’. Try arguing with that kind of logic when we all know that they do have a point. If you’re currently learning math at any level, you do get what I’m saying don’t you?

As adults, how many times have you used differential equations in your everyday life? If you are not directly in the mathematical field or in any of the STEM fields, chances are you will never get to encounter those hard ball math topics that kicked your ass when you were in school- ever again.

So why should they bother racking their brain, your students or kids may ask? Why should they continue trying so hard to learn a subject that continues proving so difficult to learn, especially if they are leaning towards the more artistic or logical profession? And they may never need to know more than the simple addition, subtraction, division and multiplication to live a seamless everyday life.

The right answer is to tell them that studying math makes them smarter. This isn’t just to get your kids to pay attention to one of the most important subjects in school. It has been scientifically proven.

Studying math changes the brain and the way you can think as it prepares you for real life problems

What Part of the Brain does Math?

The brain consists of two hemispheres. The right and the left hemispheres, each of these are further divided into parts like the parietal, the occipital, the frontal and the temporal lobe.

The left side of the hemisphere is in charge of controlling the right side of our body while the right hemisphere is in charge of controlling the left side of our body. The left hemisphere is responsible for our more analytical thoughts, our skills with numbers, science and mathematics, reasoning, logic and language. The right hemisphere controls the functions of creativity and art, intuition, holistic thoughts and insight, imaginations, music awareness and 3D images and forms. A short answer to the question of what part of the brain does math is the left hemisphere region.

Breaking down the math’s in your brain

However, the long answer is a bit more holistic and complex but I will try to break it down for you. It largely involves the analytical part of the brain – this is true. But it also utilizes the right hemisphere in charge of insightful and intuitive thoughts, viewing 3D forms and processing holistic thoughts. In essence, both sides of the brain participate and contribute to math problems. Let me explain.

When you see a mathematical problem, the right side of the brain takes the question apart and divides it into sectioned details. The left side notices numbers or diagrams if there are any and the right-side associate’s logic with the problem and pieces the information together for the left side to solve efficiently. The left part may seem to do the heavy lifting but without the understanding of the right part of the brain, there would be no mathematical creativity and insight.

The right side helps you to understand the reason for mathematics, the flow and natural progression of mathematics and this fosters motivation and zeal when tackling math problems. This in turn helps the left hemisphere focus fully on solving the problem.

In coming up with new equations or expressions, the left hemisphere experiments with the numbers, symbols or equations and it passes its findings to the right hemisphere. The right hemisphere then uses its holistic processing to criticize, pick out faults or applaud the left hemisphere. So you see, the two parts have to always work together to achieve better mathematical results. Besides, research proves that the right hemisphere has a better understanding of the parabola curve than the left hemisphere. It is also responsible for understanding 3-dimensional gradients because of its 3D form and imaging abilities.

Essentially, even though the left hemisphere is in charge of our analytical, math and science abilities, it always has to be in cooperation with the right hemisphere for a more holistic approach to problem solving.

research publication in the Neuroscience Journal has taught us that there is no ‘math region’ of the brain. A network of brain region functions in unison to achieve mathematical success. There are three regions of the brain that are most responsible for improved math learning. They are the posterior parietal cortex, the ventrotemporal occipital cortex and the prefrontal cortex.

These regions are the most active during mathematical stimulation. Their sizes and grey matter differs from person to person. The relationship and connection between these individual regions also have an influence on math success.

How does Math Change your Thinking?

Now that we know how the brain operates and what parts it uses when solving mathematical problems, let us talk about how math can change your thinking.

Math thinking is abstract thinking. It’s about noticing patterns and making connections between them. Math builds your brain muscles and arms you for any of life’s problems. Regularly practicing math makes you begin to think abstractly and concretely. Many math scholars claim that math makes them believe there is a simple solution for every seemingly difficult life problem they encounter. It helps you to look out for and notice patterns and connect the dots between them.

Neuroscientists around the world agree that mathematics is a great way to build the brain. I am going to talk about how it makes you smarter later on as we progress. But we have to understand that math is a language and some people know this language better than some other people.

A prodigy like Einstein saw problems as symbols and diagrams – mathematical diagrams. He understood this language and tackled it effectively. There is the verbal mathematical aspect of math and the numerical aspect. These have to be understood individually to be successful in math.

Math increases your confidence when confronting problems you may be unfamiliar with. It increases your problem-solving abilities in every area of your life and aids in systemic thinking approach. It teaches you to consistently and persistently keep trying to solve a problem even with the help of trial and error methodology. It expands your mind to numerous ways of arriving at a singular and logical conclusion.

Math opens your mind to see things holistically and come up with creative or abstract ways to tackle problems if the need arises. Math organizes your thinking and instills discipline. It teaches you to use basic or complicated steps or procedures to formulate new ones. And above all, math skills are extremely transferrable. They can be transferred to help us navigate our everyday lives or professional lives even when numbers are not involved.

Does Studying Math make you Smarter?

Like Arvin Vohra said in his book ‘The Equation for Excellence: How to make your child excel in Math’, studying math shouldn’t be done because you’re smart, it should be done because it makes you smarter. Math thinking builds the brain muscles, it instills discipline, strategic and clear thinking. These are requirements needed to excel in any other field that isn’t mathematically inclined. It also forms new neural pathways in the brain. All of these add up to make you excel in arts, sports, debate, logical professions, building and the likes that you may think do not necessarily need the input of math skills.

According to a post on, Math is like a springboard to achieving overall intelligence and excellence in every area of our lives. A popular example of a man who was an art prodigy but was also mathematically inclined is Leonardo Da Vinci. He had a thinking pattern that was way advanced for his time. His famous notebook is filled with theories, formulas and ideas.

Instead of thinking you will never get to use math because you want to be a footballer, a writer, an actor or a lawyer. Think about how math can make you better in any of those fields. Keeping you one step ahead any of your peers that felt they didn’t need math. It changes the way you think and see things. It gives you strategic thinking, strong mental will and discipline. It builds your brain holistically by doing the following, according to a recent post by

  • Expanding your mind to tackle unfamiliar tasks with ease and confidence.
  • Forming the basis for a systemic thinking pattern for people that practice math.
  • Creating the ability and skills needed to break down problems into steps, analyze and solve them efficiently.
  • Creating a pattern and sequencing skill.
  • Promoting careful thinking when solving difficult problems.
  • Developing multiple approach and principles to arrive at a single correct answer.
  • Trial and error encourage learning from mistakes and finding new ways to arrive at a right conclusion.

You may think you are not smart enough for math, Math doesn’t need you to be smart enough for it. Its job is to make you smarter by building your brain as you continue to practice. However, I have to be honest. Does math come easier to some people? Definitely yes, but there is no such thing as a fixed intelligence. You may be intelligent today but if you do not keep building your brain, studying and improving your mental state, you may lose your intelligence in a few years.

In essence, mastery comes from practicing. Even people that are great in math in high school will encounter extremely complex math problems in college that will make them think about quitting. Keep practicing and you will see a difference.

I will explain why intelligent people also need to keep practicing math to remain being good at it and why you don’t necessarily need to have a high IQ to be good at math as we progress with the article.

Does a High Level Math Correlate with High IQ?

Many people get discouraged with math because they assume that only intelligent or really smart people do well in math. I can happily tell you that it is false. A high IQ or intelligence is good but what beats that when it comes to math is practice, practice, practice. Continually studying math makes you better at it, irrespective of your IQ. Let me quickly explain what IQ is all about.

IQ, also known as intelligent quotient, is known after a person has gone through a series of tests to prove how smart he or she is. The person is tested on mathematical abilities, verbal abilities, general knowledge, language, visual and spatial imaging abilities, memorization abilities and a couple of other tests. Each of these individual areas are calculated together to give a quotient result. A person with a high IQ is usually known to score about 120 – 200.

Here is the interesting part, this test has to be taken every couple of years to prove that you are getting smarter. It is quite common for people who scored relatively high when they were younger to score lower a few years later. This is the reason I mentioned earlier that there is no fixed intelligence.

Another interesting thing about the IQ testing procedure is that some people will excel brilliantly in verbal reasoning, language, memorization, visual – spatial imaging and general knowledge – basically anything that involves thinking verbally or logically and has almost nothing to do with numbers. Their numerical skills, on the other hand, will be considerably poor or average. However, their other scores will be so good that they end up with an overall high IQ score. Do you see where I am going with this? Having a high IQ does not determine your affinity for math. Putting effort into practice and studying is what will build your affinity for high level math.

Math is a tough subject, even people with amazing numerical abilities will struggle with some problems at some point. The only chance anyone has is to combine effort with IQ – high or low (Don’t forget that math eventually makes you smarter).

Having a high IQ alone will not make you excel in math. Like everyone else with a lower IQ you have to put in effort. The only advantage a high IQ person has over a lower one is the enabling motivation. Right out of the box, they think they can solve the problem because of their brain capacity and they are motivated to do so. This is usually when they are attracted to math while others run away from it. Their IQ enables them to tackle math as a subject head on.

Can you have a High IQ and Be Bad at Math?

I already explained the whole concept of IQ to you, so the answer to this question is a definite yes. Don’t get me wrong, they may be able to stand on their own with basic math skills. Like addition, multiplication, subtraction and division but the minute you veer into math that aren’t used in their everyday lives, they shut down. A person with a high IQ isn’t always great with numbers or calculations. Research claims that these are the people that utilize the right side of their brain more than the left side. This is also called classical reasoning. On a clearer term, it can also be referred to as creative, intuitive, artistic, logical and verbal thinking.

Having a high IQ isn’t only determined on the basis of your skills with numbers. There are several other subjects that are tested that can give you a high IQ even when you suck at math like I mentioned previously.

In the same vein, having an average IQ doesn’t mean you will be bad or good at math. It means you have to put in effort and study and do you know what lies beyond that? It makes you smarter by building your brain muscles. And in a few years’ time you will probably be among the high IQ fellows with great numerical skills.

Why is Algebra good for the Brain?

Have you ever heard the saying that humans only use a small percentage of the brain capacity? That saying is true. During the course of this article, I have repeatedly mentioned that math builds the brain. Algebra is not exactly a basic math skill, many students struggle with it. But the more they keep finding new ways to solve it, the more their neuron’s dendrites expand when sensitized with mathematical problems. New neural pathways are created and brain cells find new connections and reestablish old and redundant ones.

Essentially, algebra is a great math tool for building our brain capacity. It makes us smarter, improves our problem-solving ability and makes us take systemic approach in our thought processes. It also improves our excellence in other subject areas.

Can anyone learn high level math?

The answer again is a definite yes.  Irrespective of age, IQ or any other seemingly daunting factor, math can always be learned by anyone who puts effort into learning. Time for learning will vary from person to person but eventually you will learn the math that you thought was too difficult. Everyone cannot learn math because not everyone has an interest in math or is motivated to learn. But anyone who has the desire to learn can learn and age is not a deterring factor. Although it will be slightly easier for younger kids to grasp the concept of math faster because they have more brain cells and more active ones. Some brain cells die or grow redundant as we age. This however can be counteracted by brain training.

Like I earlier said, all you need to be good at math is effort. We were all born with the same brain capacity. Some of us utilize ours more by training and studying. It is never too late to start training your brain with math.

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