Research Validates Abacus Math Improves Cognitive Abilities

Abacus – The ancient computer

The abacus is most commonly attributed to the East Asian countries and, in its most recognizable form, dates back to the 2nd Century B.C.  Although it is usually referred to as an ancient calculator, the abacus is closer to a computer than a calculator due to its characteristic of representing numbers in 1s and 5s, very similar to the binary language that computers use to represent data.

Abacus consists of a wooden frame and has multiple vertical rods and a horizontal beam that divides the abacus into an upper deck and a lower deck. This simple visual-spatial device is used to compute complicated mathematical operations, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and even find out square roots and cube roots. 

Cognitive development and abacus training

While an abacus may seem ancient since computers can compute mathematical problems accurately in a matter of seconds, research indicates that the use of the abacus makes humans themselves much more efficient.

Studies into abacus-trained individuals who make use of abacus-based mental calculations (AMC) indicate that they perform better at solving numerical problems. They also have an improved ability to retain numerical information, and this ability transfers onto other areas of cognitive functioning as well.

According to research conducted on a wide variety of demographics from eleven-year-olds to grand abacus experts in China, people employing AMC visualize a mental abacus to assist in performing mathematical problems. AMC improves cognitive ability, at least as far as performing mathematical operations.

The neurology of AMC

Abacus training and the ability to mentally use the abacus has significantly improved cognitive functioning, specifically for mathematical tasks. Further investigation into the exact nature of AMC through neuroimaging technology proves that AMC transforms the way the brain processes numerical stimuli. Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI) shows that children with AMC training not only show enhanced numerical abilities and possess superior inductive reasoning skills, they also have higher levels of regional homogeneity (ReHo) in their rostrolateral prefrontal cortex (RLPFC). The enhanced cognitive abilities result from a modulation of mental processes that are much more efficient in individuals trained using an abacus.

The ability to visualize and manipulate mentally has been shown to impact other areas of brain functioning as well, other than mathematical tasks. These include working memory which is responsible for a multitude of processes, including language processing and problem-solving. By improving mathematical abilities and working memory, abacus training significantly elevates fluid intelligence, which is generally associated with reasoning and the ability to solve novel problems. AMC is a great way to improve cognitive functioning and make mental processes much more efficient. As simple as it looks, an abacus can enhance learning and intelligence. Despite being an ancient tool, abacus continues to prove its potential even at a time when computers that process large amounts of data in nanoseconds exist. 

At JAMS, Portland we are dedicated to help your child achieve his maximum potential and excel in mathematics. Contact us today to schedule a meeting to see if Abacus would be best for your child’s future. 

An article written by Miwako Sensei on how early math lessons can change your child’s brain can be read here:


Sensei’s daughter tells her story on how learning abacus skills as a child helped her along the way in this post here:


Nothing fuels the fire for math than discovering you can be a math genius! If you’re not sure Abacus will help your child, sign up for a free preview of our online Abacus Classes – there’s no obligation to register! Come meet with us, watch some kids in action, calculating at the speed of light! We guarantee you will have fun watching these little geniuses.




JAMS is proud to be the only Abacus math school in Portland and in the State of Oregon certified by the League of Soroban of Americas. Since 2001, we have dedicated to Abacus & Anzan instruction and to building a strong foundation of Mental Mathematics along with lifelong skills. JAMS empowers children to achieve academic success, so they will grow in areas that go well beyond the classroom. JAMS parents can expect their child to improve in 5 different areas: concentration, discipline, problem-solving, time management, and confidence. This is the teaching approach at JAMS since opening its doors.