Brain dynamics of mathematical problem solving

Annu Int Conf IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2012;2012:4768-71. doi: 10.1109/EMBC.2012.6347033.


The purpose of this study is to examine brain activities of participants solving mental math problems. The research investigated how problem difficulty affected the subjects' responses and electroencephalogram (EEG) in different brain regions. In general, it was found that solution latencies (SL) to the math problems increased with difficulty. The EEG results showed that across subjects, the right-central beta, left-parietal theta, left-occipital theta and alpha, right-parietal alpha and beta, medial-frontal beta and medial central theta power decreased as task difficulty increased. This study further explored the effects of problem-solving performance on the EEG. Slow solvers exhibited greater frontal theta activities in the right hemisphere, whereas an inverse pattern of hemispheric asymmetry was found in fast solvers. Furthermore, analyses of spatio-temporal brain dynamics during problem solving show progressively stronger alpha- and beta-power suppression and theta-power augmentation as subjects were reaching a solution. These findings provide a better understanding of cortical activities mediating math-based problem solving and knowledge acquisition that can ultimately benefit math learning and education.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Young Adult