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Brian Butterworth is a professor of cognitive neuropsychology in the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London. His research has ranged from speech errors and pauses, short-term memory deficits, dyslexia, reading both in alphabetic scripts and logograms, and mathematics and dyscalculia. His book The Mathematical Brain[1] has been translated into four languages. He was Editor-in-Chief of Linguistics (1978-1983) and a founding editor of the journals, "Language and Cognitive Processes" and "Mathematical Cognition". He is a Fellow of the British Academy.

In 1984 he diagnosed President Ronald Reagan on the basis of speech errors in his presidential re-election speeches in an article in the Sunday Times as having Alzheimer’s disease ten years before this was formally identified.[2][3][4] He was a coauthor in 1971 of a pamphet, Marked for life, critical of university examinations.[5]

He designed the world’s largest mathematical experiment involving over 18,000 people at Explore-At-Bristol.[6]. The results were announced in Sept 2003 and found that women were faster at subitizing.[7]

Subitizing experiment

Subitizing concerns the ability to instantly identify the number of items without counting. Collections of four or below are usually subitized with collections of larger numbers being counted. Brian Butterworth designed an experiment that ran as an interactive exhibit at the Explore-At-Bristol science museum to find whether subitizing differed between women and men. Participants were asked to estimate as fast as they could between one and 10 dots and press the answer on a touch screen. How long they took—their reaction time--was measured. Over 18,000 people took part—the largest number ever to take part in a mathematical cognition experiment.[7] He announced his finding that women were better than men at subitizing at the British Association for the Advancement of Science's 2003 annual science festival.[7] He also found that people were six per cent faster on calculating the number of dots if they were presented on the left side of the screen (and so right sided lateralized in the brain) but only if there were five or more and so counted.[7][8]


The Mathematical Brain

(1999). London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0333766101

Published in the same year in the US as What Counts New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0684854175

Italian translation. Intelligenza Matematica. (1999). Milano: Rizzoli. ISBN 9788873780137
Japanese translation (Naze sugaku ga tokui na hito to nigate na hito ga irunoka? (Why are some people good, but others bad at maths?) (2001). Tokyo: Shufunotomosha.
Swedish translation Den matematiska människan. (2000). Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand. ISBN 9789146174066
Chinese translation (2004). 200X Orient Publishing Company (Chinese)

Other books

Powell A. Butterworth B. (1971). Marked for life: a criticism of assessment at universities. London, Anarchist Group ISBN 9780901807014

Butterworth B. (1980). Language Production Volume 1: Speech and talk Academic Pr ISBN 978-0121475017

Butterworth B. (1983). Language Production Volume 2: Development, Writing and Other Language Processes Academic Pr ISBN 978-0121475024

Butterworth B. Comrie B. Dahl O. (1984). Explanations for Language Universals Mouton De Gruyter ISBN 978-3110097979

Butterworth, B. (2004). Dyscalculia Guidance Helping Pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties in Maths. David Fulton ISBN 978-0708711521


  • Butterworth B, Howard D, Mcloughlin P. (1984). The semantic deficit in aphasia: the relationship between semantic errors in auditory comprehension and picture naming. Neuropsychologia 22(4):409-26. PMID 6207456


  • Shallice T, Butterworth B. (1977). Short-term memory impairment and spontaneous speech. Neuropsychologia. 15(6):729-35. PMID 600367

Reading and dyslexia

  • Campbell R, Butterworth B. (1985). Phonological dyslexia and dysgraphia in a highly literate subject: a developmental case with associated deficits of phonemic processing and awareness. Q J Exp Psychol A. 37(3):435-75. PMID 4048548
  • Yin, W. G. & Butterworth, B. (1998) Chinese pure alexia. Aphasiology, 12, 65-76. OCLC 198414365
  • Wydell TN, Butterworth B. (1999). A case study of an English-Japanese bilingual with monolingual dyslexia. Cognition. 70(3):273-305. PMID 10384738
  • Butterworth B, Yin WG. (1991). The universality of two routines for reading: evidence from Chinese dyslexia. Proc Biol Sci. 246(1315):91-5. PMID 1684672
  • Yin W. Butterworth B. (1992). Deep and Surface Dyslexia in Chinese In Chen, H-C. & Tzeng, O. J. L. (eds.) Language Processing in Chinese. Amsterdam: North Holland/Elsevier. (1 MB)



  1. Butterworth, B. (1999). The Mathematical Brain. London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0333766101
  2. The Sunday Times, November 4, 1984
  3. Forbes-McKay KE, Venneri A. (2005). Detecting subtle spontaneous language decline in early Alzheimer's disease with a picture description task. Neurol Sci. 26(4):243-54.PMID 16193251 This reference discusses Butterworth’s study on Reagan
  4. Venneri A, Forbes-Mckay KE, Shanks MF. (2005). Impoverishment of spontaneous language and the prediction of Alzheimer's disease. Brain. 128(Pt 4):E27. PMID 15788549 Another mention of Butterworth's study
  5. Powell A. Butterworth B. (1971). Marked for life: a criticism of assessment at universities. London, Anarchist Group ISBN 9780901807014
  6. The world’s largest maths experiment
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 BBC:Women beat men in maths test
  8. New Scientist 11 September 2003

External links

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