UCL News


UCL academic gets inside our brains (and Carol Vorderman's)

6 October 2003

Are you an empathiser or a systemiser? In an up-coming lecture series, UCL neurophysiologist Dr Mark Lythgoe will explore whether the type of brain we have determines our vocation.

The brain at work

Carol Vorderman, most famous for her nimble mental arithmetic on the TV quiz show Countdown, has offered her services to Dr Lythgoe and colleagues to find out if she was born to be good at maths. Dr Lythgoe carried out a scan of Carol's brain using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques to discover what happens when she does her sums. The results will be presented at the public lectures on science and art, the first of which is at the Science Museum's IMAX cinema on 23 October 2003 and is sponsored by the Novartis Visions of Science Photographic Awards.

One member of the UCL research team believes it's all down to practice. Professor Brian Butterworth, author of The Mathematical Brain, said: "It needs hard work and interest in the subject, but 95% of the population could calculate to a high standard."

However, Dr Lythgoe begs to differ: "When I look at the students from UCL's Physics department and the Slade School of Fine Art, they are from completely different worlds. Some say it's down to cultural differences, but I believe it's something far more innate."

Dr Lythgoe will draw from a number of sources in his talks to detect whether or not there are strong genetic traits that determine what type of person we are. "Scientists should be systemisers - good at processing and categorising information. Artists, on the other hand, must have empathy with social and personal spheres."

Anyone with internet access can take a short test devised by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen to discover whether they are an empathiser or a sympathiser. The results will be presented at the lectures.

In the second part of the talk, 'Locked in the castle of the five senses', a series of optical and auditory illusions will be shown to the audience. Dr Lythgoe said: "I want to show how infallible we are, and how broad our 'normality' is. In doing so, I hope it will blur the boundaries between the normal and the abnormal, the able and the disabled."

To take the brain-type test use the link below.

The brain-type test