The Relationship Between Brain Development and Abacus/Mental Math Memorization

Socal Mental Math Education Center
Director of Operation
CAROLYN ANYasuaki Rei 會長

In today’s fast changing technology, people no longer rely on abacus for its calculating function. However, the importance of abacus education has often been emphasized by scholars and specialists. Abacus and mental math classes are almost included in all extracurricular learning activities for preschool kids. Furthermore, mental math seems to have gradually gained the approval and support of many parents. According to investigation reports done by scholars worldwide, learning abacus does in fact help with the development of the human brain, especially in the areas of intellectual performance and behavior.

According to the “Representation” Theory, by Dr. Bruner (1966), the developmental process of children’s mental and intellectual capacity is composed of three stages:

  1. Enactive-Representation Stage:
    Infants below age 3 tend to feel their surroundings by actively engaging in touch sensation. They touch objects with their hands, taste with their mouth, and gain their first experiences through physical actions.
  2. Iconic-Representation Stage:
    As the infants grow older, they start to retain a mental representation of an object using their senses. For example, infants can describe something from their memory by recalling the object’s shape, size, etc.
  3. Symbol-Representation Stage:
    During this stage, kids start to utilize words, numbers, shapes, symbols, etc. to represent their experiences and knowledge. According to Bruner’s findings, infants should not start the learning process before the age of three. After the age of three, the learning process can be gradually and carefully implemented. Currently, numerous mainstream schools have recognized the importance of abacus and mental math education without paying much attention to the age group. In fact, teachers should take into consideration the learning ages of kids because there are only a few advanced students with genius IQ levels. Similar results cannot be achieved with the same teaching methods if the student body is different. According to investigations, infants between the ages of one and half and five form their basic recognition of numbers gradually. They already know that the “number” itself is an abstract symbol; however, they still need to gradually distinguish abstract from concrete. After a certain period of time exploring, repeating, and practicing, this ability to think abstractly finally becomes fully developed.

Cognitive Neuroscience states that starting from the mid 1970’s, the research on the human mind and its mechanism has entered a brand new era. Experts and scholars from different fields such as cognition on neurology, neurophysiology, biology, linguistics, information system, etc. have started a dialogue based on the topic of “brain memory behavior.” In the mid 1980’s, the revolutionary development of brain imaging technology provided the platform for scholars and researchers to cooperate even further. This new field of investigation is known as Cognitive Neuroscience.

The decade between 1990 and 1999 has been recognized as “the decade of the brain.” One of the most prominent researchers in cognitive neuroscience, Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, even announced that the twenty-first century would be the century of the brain. All of these remarks indicate that human beings are capable of studying the biological activities between the brain’s neuronal nerve cells (integration between the cells) and the correlation between brain and behavior by utilizing more advanced biotechnology. This paved a way for a brand new era of investigation in which many contemporary brain researchers all recognize that continuous practicing can fortify and strengthen the ability to memorize to help children improve their memories and brainstorming skills.

What is memory? Neurologically, researchers have found that there is a very important region in the brain known as the hippocampus, which is in charge of memory. It is located deep in the brain and is a group of cells in the shape of a seahorse in the temporal lobe. Declarative memories, which consist of facts and episodic memories, are all sent to the hippocampus through the neo-cortex. There are three important stages of memory formation: encoding, saving, and retrieving. Memories formed in the hippocampus are transferred to and saved in the cortex through the consolidation process so that the brain can automatically retrieve them when stimulated again in the future.

How many types of memories are there? Memory can be classified into short-term memory and long-term memory. When an outside stimulant reaches the senses, an immediate memory is formed. However, it usually stays for only a couple seconds and then disappears. This function is very important to us, and it doesn’t leave a structural change to the brain. When memory gets filtered again, some immediate memories become recent memories. These memories stay in the brain for a few hours and can last up to several months. This causes a change in the brain cells, called short-term memory. When short-term memory gets filtered once more, some are converted into long-term memory and is saved in the necrotic. In cases of catastrophic accidents, it’s possible for the brain to directly take the stimulation and convert it into long-term memory. In other instances, the memory gets filtered several times before finally becoming long-term memory. Besides the hippocampus, the prefrontal lobe and basal ganglia are also very important parts of the brain in the formation of memory.

In conclusion, the development of cognitive neuroscience and evidence from medical research proved that the results achieved through learning abacus and mental math, in both theory and physical practice, have been accepted and encouraged by modern society. This is a great motivation for people dedicated to this profession. The role that each parent plays is also vital to us. Since abacus and mental math is a special type of education, parents should actively engage their kids in this activity.