Wednesday, July 05, 2006

East and west speakers make different calculations

Source: scenta

Native English speakers calculate mathematical problems much differently to those who learned Chinese as their first language.



By completing simple arithmetic, the two nationalities were observed to use different parts of their brain, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers utilised brain imagining techniques to determine which parts of the brain were active when participants completed basic sums, such as four plus five equals nine.

All arithmetic questions were with Arabic numbers, a numeral system familiar in both cultures.

Both the Chinese and English groups utilised a region of the brain known as the inferior parietal cortex, an area connected to quantity representation and reading.

English speakers, however, displayed more activity in the language processing area of the brain, while their Chinese counterparts used the area of the brain that deals with processing visual information.

Lead author Yiyuan Tang of Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China told the Associated Press that the difference "may mean that Chinese speakers perform problems in a different manner than English speakers".

"In part that might represent the difference in language - it could be that the difference in language encourages different styles of computation and this may be enhanced by different methods of learning to deal with numbers."

The cultural difference of completing mathematical problems may help scientists develop better approaches to making calculations.

Richard Nisbett, co-director of the Culture and Cognition Program at the University of Michigan, said to the Associated Press that "the work is important because it tells us something about the particular pathways in the brain that underlie some of the differences between Asians and Westerners in thought patterns".

Nisbett hopes that the results of the study will lead to better understandings of the different cultures’ mindsets which may provide a basis upon which to learn from each other.

"They literally are seeing the world differently," he added.

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