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I have a young nephew who much prefers history and social science to math and I remembered an article, or maybe it was in a book, which described how some intermediate math problems can be reframed as social relationship or social fairness problems. This allows the social processing part of the brain to kick in and solve the problem almost without effort, when the student would be struggling otherwise. The idea was that abstract combinatorics questions can be reframed as counting the ways you can match different types of people together. Another example was allocation problems where you reframe that as allocating things fairly between people.

My memory of the article is frustratingly incomplete because this approach would be ideal for my nephew. He doesn't do well at math I suspect because he is more interested in how people interact so if he could harness that part of his brain for math as well, he may come to enjoy math a bit more.

I've been googling for 2 days to find an example of this approach and found some interesting related stuff but nothing on this specifically. Can anyone help to explain this approach?

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AFAIK recent computational neuroscience research shows that there are no specialized brain areas, but rather activity levels coupling certain brain areas, while these couplings have not yet been mapped to general cateogries such as "social processing" or "math processing".

Recent neuroscience research - Quanta Magazine

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks - I don't know the subject well enough to be precise in my question. Everything I read online supports your claim. Rather than "part of the brain" maybe I should say "the result of general brain processing applied to different subject areas". My thought is that the brain may well be a general computing engine and social/math cognition just build on that. But empirically it seems that some individuals handle problems in social areas better than in math areas. That could be because their general processing engines got more training on social problems than math problems. $\endgroup$
    – John D
    Dec 27 '21 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnD These observed activity clusters will most likely map to different categories, otherwise why would there be a difference in the first place and yes it seems likely that logic and emotion would be in a different category. However this is only speculation based on former psychological models. Also the claim that the "social processing" part of the brain would solve the problem without effort seems strange. I could imagine though that generally this would be a method to interest people more in math by reframing as social relationship. However, based on my experience with... $\endgroup$
    – Rubus
    Dec 27 '21 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ "social justice math" it could also lead to the dumbing down of math education, so I would rate your claim dubious but If you find empirical evidence I'm very interested in it...Also your claim would only pertain basic math, I could not imagine reframing a proof as social relationship. $\endgroup$
    – Rubus
    Dec 27 '21 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ If you really want to help your nephew look into en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incubation_(psychology) this topic seems to be well studied... $\endgroup$
    – Rubus
    Dec 27 '21 at 21:29

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