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Scientists have long believed that our ability to solve symbolic math problems such as 3+2=5 depends on an imprecise, primal brain function called the Approximate Number System. A new study suggests otherwise.

“Our study shows that gaining expertise with symbolic math, which is a human cultural invention, actually refines this evolutionarily ancient system of quantity representation, not the other way around,” says lead author Macarena Suárez Pellicioni, an educational neuroscience postdoctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development…


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