Fighting the fight: Are language and algebra really dissociated in the human brain?

Drs Tzourio-Mazoyer and Laura Zago, very noted researchers in the field of reasoning, engage with my Psychological Science report on the dissociation between algebra and language, offering some potential cautionary points:

Myself, Dr Osherson and Dr Parsons, reply to their feedback explaining why the cautionary points do not actually apply to our paper, and thus do not affect the conclusion that there is a dissociation between the neural basis of the syntax of language and that of algebra:

Latest MontiLab publication in Psychological Science: A neural dissociation between the syntax operations of language and those of algebra

Does natural language provide a scaffolding upon which our mind built other domains of structure dependent thought, such as algebra, logic and music?

In a recent study published in Psychological Science we compared the neural basis of the syntactic operations of language to those of algebra, and the two appear to be (neurally) dissociated – meaning the neural machinery of language is not involved in reasoning and manipulating the syntactic structure of algebraic expressions. So the neural machinery that allows you to understand that “The girl kissed the boy” describes the same state of affairs as “The boy was kissed by the girl” is not involved in recognizing that “5 – 3 = 2” is the same as “5 = 3 + 2”.


Monti MM, Parsons LM, Osherson DN (2012) Thought beyond language: A neural dissociation of algebra and natural language. Psychological Science 23(8) 914-922. script