When Brain Damage Helps

Try solving the mathematical problems below by moving a single matchstick to form a valid mathematical statement? Note: No sticks can be discarded, an isolated slanted stick cannot be interpreted as I (one), and a V (five) symbol must always be composed of two slanted sticks.

Problem 1

Problem 2

If you had trouble with that last puzzle, fear not - it means your frontal lobe is probably intact! Healthy adults are frequently outperformed by patients with frontal brain damage on that test, according to a 2005 study by Reverberi et al.

The authors tested 35 patients with focal brain lesions to the lateral or medial prefrontal cortex, along with 23 age- and education-matched healthy subjects, on a series of similar "matchstick arithmetic" problems, with 3 minutes to complete each problem. Whereas only 43% of healthy subjects completed the second problem, more than 80% of the patients with lateral prefrontal damage were able to do so!

Why should this be? The authors argued that prefrontal cortex allows for "sculpting of the response space" - in other words, prefrontal cortex is used to guide and control the mental search for a solution. Normally such "cognitive guidance" is a good thing ... but it can be bad for solutions which require thinking outside the box - outside the normal, real-world constraints we place on workable solutions.

Find out more (and also the solution) by clicking the link below.

Source: ScienceBlogs
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