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Spatial complexity of character based writing systems and arithmetic in primary school: a longitudinal study

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Version 2 2023-06-12, 08:31
Version 1 2023-06-09, 02:20
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posted on 2023-06-12, 08:31 authored by Maja Rodic, Tatiana Tikhomirova, Tatiana Kolienko, Sergey Malykh, Olga Bogdanova, Dina Y Zueva, Elena I Gynku, Sirui Wan, Xinlin Zhou, Yulia Kovas
Previous research has consistently found an association between spatial and mathematical abilities. We hypothesised that this link may partially explain the consistently observed advantage in mathematics demonstrated by East Asian children. Spatial complexity of the character-based writing systems may reflect or lead to a cognitive advantage relevant to mathematics. 721 6-9 -year old children from the UK and Russia were assessed on a battery of cognitive skills and arithmetic. The Russian children were recruited from specialist linguistic schools and divided into 4 different language groups, based on the second language they were learning (i.e. English, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese). The UK children attended regular schools and were not learning any second language. The testing took place twice across the school year, once at the beginning, before the start of the second language acquisition, and once at the end of the year. The study had two aims: (1) to test whether spatial ability predicts mathematical ability in 7-9 year old children across the samples; (2) to test whether acquisition and usage of a character-based writing system leads to an advantage in performance in arithmetic and related cognitive tasks. The longitudinal link from spatial ability to mathematics was found only in the Russian sample. The effect of second language acquisition on mathematics or other cognitive skills was negligible, although some effect of Chinese language on mathematical reasoning was suggested. Overall, the findings suggest that although spatial ability is related to mathematics at this age, one academic year of exposure to spatially complex writing systems is not enough to provide a mathematical advantage. Other educational and socio-cultural factors might play a greater role in explaining individual and cross-cultural differences in arithmetic at this age.


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