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Monkey Brain 'Hardwired' for Simple Math
Date:1/19/2010

Rhesus macaques have neurons dedicated to 'less than,' 'greater than' problems, study suggests

TUESDAY, Jan. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Monkey see, monkey do simple math?

A German team of neurobiologists has found that rhesus macaques can engage in abstract mathematical reasoning using specific brain cells dedicated to the comprehension of math rules and relationships.

The finding could provide insight into the neurology behind human ability to comprehend much more complex mathematics, German scientists said.

"Even simple mathematical operations are highly abstract mental operations on quantities that are governed by overarching concepts and principles," explained study co-author Andreas Nieder, a professor in the department of animal physiology at the University of Tubingen's Institute of Neurobiology. "Monkeys can adopt abstract mathematical rules, and they can switch between them."

"That means they understand very fundamental, non-symbolic mathematical principles, such as 'greater than' and 'less than'," Neider added. His team traced this ability to neurons in the prefrontal cortex region of the primate brain -- an area that appears to be devoted to encoding the basic rules of math.

Neider and co-author Sylvia Bongard reported their findings online Jan. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To assess primate math skills and isolate the neurology behind them, the team trained two rhesus monkeys to assess when groups of various objects, such as dots, were either "greater than" or "less than" another grouping of the same object.

Having learned these two basic mathematical rules, the monkeys were then tracked as they worked levers to indicate which grouping was the larger or smaller of the two displayed.

During the course of 160 different trials, the authors also recorded neural activity among 484 randomly selected cells located in the monke
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