Welcome to the site of the Groupe de Contact "Numbers and the Brain". This Groupe de Contact is funded by the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS, Belgium). It aims at bringing together the laboratories studying numerical cognition in Belgium, to promote and facilitate scientific collaborations.


Why study numerical cognition?

Because we live in a numerical world. All day long, we process numbers. We see them, we hear them, we say them. We calculate prices, quantities (e.g., amount of food to prepare the dinner, number of people in a supermarket queue, etc.), delays  (e.g.,  the  time  we  can  take  to  go  to  work  before  we miss the next train or to get home before recording our

favourite TV show), or distances. We are able to calculate areas (e.g., to buy the right volume of paint to cover a wall), ratios (e.g., to compare the price of two items with different weights), rates (e.g., to discriminate between good and bad investments) and much more. We are so expert in processing numbers and calculating that, most of the time, we do all these numerical activities without paying any attention to them, without even realizing that we are in fact making use of rather high-level cognitive processes. Indeed, most of these numerical and calculation abilities are not innate and, before being mastered, they require a rather long and boring study during childhood. As a matter of fact, although the primary school cycle during which the bases of numerical and arithmetical knowledge are formally taught lasts five to seven years depending on countries, nearly 40% of pupils end this cycle with insufficient arithmetical knowledge [1], and five to 10% of them even present learning disabilities [2] from which they might still suffer into adulthood [3,4]

But being a normally educated adult who never experienced learning difficulties does not mean that you will never have any problems with numbers, as you may unfortunately one day suffer from acalculia, a name coined in the early twentieth century to designate number processing or calculation impairments consecutive to some brain damages (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular accident, tumour, degenerative illness, etc.) [5]. People with such impairments can no longer recognize an Arabic digit when they see one, or a number word when they hear or read one. They are in trouble to add, subtract, multiply or divide even very small numbers, and sometimes simply to produce numerical answers to easy questions. Such developmental or acquired impairments, because they concern so many activities, greatly affect the social, professional and daily life of those who suffer from them.

It is the aim of the members of this network to understand how the brain processes numbers and performs arithmetical operations. We hope and believe that gaining a better knowledge of these cognitive processes will not only improve our theoretical knowledge about cognition and brain functioning. It will help the thousands of kids and adults who struggle every day to overcome their numerical problems, and this will make their life easier.

Read more about the members of the network on the About us page.

[1] Brun, A., & Paster, J-M.  (2010). Les compétences en mathématiques des élèves en fin d'école primaire. Report #10.17 of the Direction de l'Evaluation, de la Prospective et de la Performance, French National Education Ministery. pp. 6.

[2] Shalev, R.S. (2007). Prevalence of developmental dyscalculia. In D.B. Berch & M.M.M. Mazzocco (Eds.), Why is math so hard for some children? The nature and origins of mathematical learning difficulties and disabilities, pp. 49-60. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing Co.

[3] Barbaresi, W.J., Katusic, S.K., Colligan, R.C., Weaver, A.L., & Jacobsen, S.J. (2005). Math learning disorder: Incidence in a population-based birth cohort, 1976-82, Rochester, Minn. Ambulatory Pedriatrics, 5 (5), 281-289.

[4] Shalev, R.S., Manor, O. & Gross-Tsur, V. (2005). Developmental dyscalculia: a six-year follow-up. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 47(2), 121-125.

[5] Henschen, S.E. (1919). Uber Sprach-, Musik- und Rechenmechanismen und ihre Lokalisation im Großhirn. Zeitschrift für die Gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie, 52, 273-298.

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