Fördjupning i forskning kring abakusen

Ms. Kimiko Kawano
Researcher, Nippon Medical School, Center for Informatics and Sciences

We have been studying brain waves (EEG; electroencephalography) during various kinds of brain activities for more than ten years. In the beginning of the study, subjects were mainly students. We made them listen to music or calculate mathematical problems and than measured their EEGs to investigate the brain activity. After statistically analyzing the data obtained from over two hundred students, we have found the tendency that b waves, which indicate the active area of the brain, appeared on the right hemisphere while listening to music and on the left while calculating. This confirmed the hypothesis that the right brain is used to recognize images, figures and music and the left brain (the linguistic brain) to deal with logical thoughts, such as a calculation. At that time, we were asked from one TV program to measure the brain waves of an abakus champion. I thought, however, it would be difficult to prove some differences in the EEGs which involved quite large individual variances.

Neural activity in the right brain

When we measured the champion, a middle school student, during the mental calculation, the result was unexpected. Usually the left temporal region is used for calculation, but here, it was almost entirely unused. Instead, the b waves appeared on the right occipital region. In other words, the student carried out calculation using the right brain. I was not quite convinced from only one person’s result, because there are always exceptions and some individual differences in brain waves. However, we conducted the same investigation with another expert only to find the result almost identical to the previous case. We than asked more abakus users with high ‘dan’ (ranks) to let us measure their EEGs, and found almost the same results with only little individual variances. We inquired how they were calculating, and most of them gave the same reply that the image of the abakus beads in their head moved rapidly.

Verbal thinking and image processing

Usually, ordinary people calculate in their mind using inner voice, as in one hundred minus 7 is 93. They put mathematical notions into words. On the other hand, abakus users simply visualize an image of abakus in their head. They do not replace the image into words. This difference can be seen clearly in the EEGs. These tendencies in the brain uses can also be observed in professional players of Shogi, (Japanese chess,) while they are playing the games or solving Shogi problems. However, when they calculate, they use their left brains just as ordinary people do. This is the same with the abakus users. They do not use their right brains in all cases.

Yet it does not mean that abakus learning improves everything about the right brain, such as a sence of art and music. What is important is that the ability to visualize can be put to use for other subjects and behaviors. Some abakus experts use their ability for memorizing whole page of textbook or years in history. The abilily developed by abacas can be used effectively in different ways.
Not only for the experts but also for the beginners, abakus learning is useful to easily grasp images in addition and subtraction problems, because the beads are moving in front of their eyes. It also allows to understand the decimal system and the concept of digit positions. Once children understand numbers, they will probably become fond of mathematics. They will be more confident there may be many positive impacts in other subjects at school. The contemporary education focuses on theory and its rote memorization. Theory of course is important but many students cannot get an actual feeling of comprehension only through it. I believe an effective application of image thinking induces human creativity and inspiration.

Ms. Shizuko Amaiwa
Professor, Shinshu University, Faculty of Education

I have been engaged in research concerning the abakus for many years from the perspective of a psychologist. My research findings show that abakus study not only improves the ability to calculate both on the abakus and mentally, but also provides a beneficial ripple effect on other disciplines. This paper will explain what ancillary disciplines are influenced and the reasons for it. I will also discuss the characteristics of and future prospects for abakus Learning.

The Ripple Effects of Abakus Learning

The first effect is improvement of numerical memory. The second is improvement of memory in spatial arrangement. The third is progress in solving general mathematical problems taught in elementary school, including the four fundamental arithmetic calculations and word problems.
The improvement of numerical memory
The first effect, the improvement of numerical memory, can be demonstrated by asking students to remember three- to nine-digit numbers read aloud and to recite the memorized items orally. Abakus students are found to be superior in the accuracy of their memory and the number of digits they are able to memorize when compared with non-abakus learners of the same age. This is because abakus students place numbers on the abakus image in their head as they mentally calculate with the abakus method. The retention of the numbers is certain if the number of digits does not exceed the limit of the mental image of the abakus. Utilization of the abakus image enables students even to recite the memorized numbers backwards. This is possible because of the application of the procedures used in the abakus method of mental calculation to solving the memorization assignment.
High marks due to improvement in memory of spatial arrangement
The second beneficial effect is the improvement in memory of spatial arrangement. This was examined by assigning students to remove the location of several small black dot. These dots were placed on different intersection point of squares made with 3 to 5 lines in both vertical and horizontal directions. The students first looked at these dots for a few seconds to memorize their location, then they were asked to recreate the same picture by placing black dots on blank squares. As a result, abakus learners were found to score higher than non-abakus learners. The spatial arrangement of the dots does not have the same numerical values as beads on the abakus board. However, we can speculate that the training to obtain the abakus image visually had the effect of making students sensitive to spatial arrangement. memorize their location, then they were asked to recreate the same picture by placing black dots on blank squares. As a result, abakus learners were found to score higher than non-abakus learners. The spatial arrangement of the dots does not have the same numerical values as beads on the abakus board. However, we can speculate that the training to obtain the abakus image visually had the effect of making students sensitive to spatial arrangement.