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Born good at maths?


The world’s largest maths experiment

At-Bristol is currently running the largest maths experiment in the world. So far 30 000 people have taken part and we have analysed the results of 7000 visitors.


The experiment was developed by Professor Brian Butterworth and his team at University College London, in collaboration with Dr Penny Fidler a neuroscientist at At-Bristol.


The results are proving very interesting. The vast numbers of people taking part allow us to look at overall trends, for example whether men and women differ in their maths ability.


The experiment can also discover if we get better or worse at maths as we get older, and if we are quicker or slower at maths in the mornings.


Professor Brian Butterworth
Professor Brian Butterworth


Two types of maths ability?
The experiment also tests the idea that we all have two different types of maths ability.



The first you are probably born with. It’s the type of instant judgement you make when you see three coins on a table. You instantly know there are three - without counting.


This instant judgement can be used for even more coins, providing they’re laid out in a regular pattern like the dots on dice.


The second type of maths ability includes all the maths you are taught - for example, addition, subtraction, multiplication and counting.


Can animals do maths?
It seems that animals can also do maths. Consider Professor Butterworths suggestion:
Three bears go into a cave
Two come out
Would you go in?

Many animals make this type judgement - based on maths.

So are some people born bad at maths?
This is one of the subjects professor Brian Butterworth has been investigating. Just as some people are born with dyslexia for words, it seems that others are born with dyscalculia - a ‘blindness’ for numbers.

Scientists have also discovered that there is a specific part of your brain responsible for doing maths. It is just above your left ear. Damage to this part of your brain causes a type of ‘number-blindness’. To read more about what its like to be dyscalculic, click here.



Click here for the results of this amazing experiment