“This is what we believe focused math education does: It sharpens the firing of these quantity neurons,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Collège de France in Paris and author of the books “The Number Sense” and “Reading and the Brain.” The firing of the number neurons becomes increasingly more selective to single quantities, he said; and these cells apparently begin to communicate with neurons across the brain in language areas, connecting precise quantities to words: “two,” “ten,” “five.”
A similar honing process is thought to occur when young children begin to link letter shapes and their associated sounds. Cells in the visual cortex wired to recognize shapes specialize in recognizing letters; these cells communicate with neurons in the auditory cortex as the letters are associated with sounds.
The process may take longer to develop than many assume. A study published in March by neuroscientists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands suggested that the brain does not fully fuse letters and sounds until about age 11.