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which leads to an increase in the MR signal. The more an area is activated, the higher the regional flow of blood. Since then the field of neuroscience has exploded.” Brain scans of London taxi drivers, for example, show more


gray matter at the back of the hippocampus, a part of the brain important to spatial memory. While no similar studies of accountants’ brains have been undertaken, we do know there is a part of the brain responsible for number processing and eco- nomic decision-making: the parietal cortex, near the centre of the brain. This region is activated when people compare numbers, add and subtract and problem solve. “When you manipulate financial information in the context of making eco- nomic decisions you also see the engagement of this brain region across both hemispheres. Is it larger in accountants? We don’t know,” says Ansari. We also don’t know whether taxi drivers are born with large


hippocampi or if it’s the result of learning so many driving routes. Ansari is willing to bet it’s a combination of the two. “Anything you do for a protracted amount of time will have an effect on your neural architecture. Studies that explore juggling, which involves complex vision and motor skills, show that when you learn, certain parts of the brain will increase,” he says. “People who are experts in identification — birders, for example — will have slightly different brains compared to non-birders because they are using the areas involved in representing and discriminating between different creatures more so than non- experts.” While he can’t say for sure, Ansari believes researchers would find a correlation between expertise in accounting and the activation or volume of certain brain regions. That correlation is the result of the brain’s plasticity, which


Ansari defines as the mechanism of adaptation. Put simply, plasticity is what allows the brain to adapt to the unique social, cultural and environmental situations it finds itself in. If you’re an accountant and spend a lot of time manipulating numbers, that action will strengthen the neuro-pathways that serve that behaviour. Translation: the more you do something, the better you get at it because the brain adapts. While there is pretty good evidence


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that brain structure and function relate to human performance in general, there is also individual varia- tion in any area, from motor perfor- mance — how well coordinated


people are, how fast they can respond — to much more compli- cated things such as personality and other aspects of behaviour. Differences in the brain, either in the thickness of parts of the cortex or the degree to which areas are wired together, can be seen based on each person’s specific abilities. “They are subtle variations,” says Lesley Fellows, a professor of neurology at Montreal’s McGill University whose research focuses on the brain basis of decision-making. “We’ve needed the resolution of modern neural-imaging and other techniques to identify those variations reliably enough in the general population.” This type of brain research is quite recent and, while numeri-


cal processing skills have been studied, it’s a much bigger leap to declare the existence of an accounting brain. Aſter all, a facil- ity with numbers is just one part of an accountant’s required abilities. Plus, even if we say people who are good with numbers have tighter brain wiring in certain areas, we don’t know whether that difference is a cause or effect, says Fellows. “Did they have that structure to start with or did they develop those changes in the brain by practising and experience? There is evi- dence for both those things going on in the human brain.” Neal Chaudhary believes there is at least partial truth to the


notion of being born with an accounting brain. Early in his career, he believed he was one of those people. He became a professional accountant in 2000 and worked his way from junior to manager to controller to CFO. But then, about 10 years into his career, something changed. “To that point, deep down, I enjoyed the conformity of it, the closure, the repetition, the structure. The more I matured, however, the more I enjoyed the problem-solving aspects, the relationship building, and the unknown — all things I didn’t enjoy when I first started my career,” he says.


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