Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Influence of Native Acquisition of Chinese on Mental Rotation Strategy Preference: An EEG Investigation

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Influence of Native Acquisition of Chinese on Mental Rotation Strategy Preference: An EEG Investigation

Article excerpt

Mental rotation (MR) is a core component of spatial ability (Kimura 1999; Voyer et al. 1995), and often requires the capacity to manipulate images in the "mind's eye". According to the literature, an MR problem can be processed via at least three types of strategies: 1) spatial/holistic, 2) verbal/analytic, or 3) a combined spatial/verbal MR process (Hunt 1975; Gluck and Fitting 2003; Hegarty 2010; Linn and Peterson 1985). The use of a spatial/holistic MR strategy requires the creation and manipulation of an imagined object, while a verbal/analytic MR strategy depends primarily on analyzing features of an object without necessarily creating a mental image, and often involves the assignment of linguistic labels. A combined spatial/verbal MR strategy involves the engagement of both processes in an integrated way.

Previous research has demonstrated that native English-speaking individuals are biased towards the use of a spatial/ holistic or verbal/analytic MR strategy as a function of their biological sex (see Li and O'Boyle 2008, 2011). Moreover, many studies report a male advantage on various spatial tests (e.g. block design, embedded figures, Piagetian water level, etc.) including MR, and that males more so than females tend to rely on a spatial/holistic MR strategy; females on the other hand prefer the use of a verbal/analytic MR strategy, or to intermittently engage a combined verbal/spatial MR strategy (Li and O'Boyle 2008, 2011; Geiser et al. 2006; Moody 1998; Moore 2003).

An additional individual difference variable relating to MR strategy preference, at least for native English speakers, is their college major. In particular, several studies have found that physical science majors (e.g., physics, chemistry, engineering, etc.) irrespective of their biological sex, have a tendency to perform MR tasks better than social science majors, and most rely upon a spatial/holistic MR strategy; social science majors (e.g., English, history, philosophy, etc.) and females in general tend to perform less well and often engage a verbal/analytic MR strategy (Casey et al. 1993; Lavach 1991; Li and O'Boyle 2008, 2011, 2013; Zegas 1976).

Explanations for the aforementioned sex and college major preferences in MR strategy revolve around the notion that a reported advantage in verbal ability for females biases them towards the use of a more verbal/analytic MR strategy. Similarly, the well-documented advantage of males in spatial ability biases them towards the use of a spatial/holistic MR strategy. Regarding college major, it has been suggested that the predominantly verbally-oriented educational experiences accompanying the pursuit of a social science degree may influence these majors to engage a verbal/analytic MR strategy; for physical science majors, an emphasis on spatially oriented educational activities and experiences may induce a preference for a spatial/holistic MR strategy (Li and O'Boyle 2008, 2011).

Given that spatial/verbal ability and related physical/social science educational experiences in native English speakers have an impact on success at MR and influence the choice of a preferred MR processing strategy, it is important to consider how the experience of natively acquiring Chinese Mandarin (a highly logographic language consisting of intricate spatial symbols) may differentially impact MR performance and preferred MR strategy.

Chinese Mandarin is qualitatively different from English in both spoken and written form. In spoken form, Chinese is a tonal language while English is a-tonal; in written form, Chinese is logographic and English is alphabetic. This sensitivity to and complex analysis of tone, as well as the visual/ logographic properties of Chinese Mandarin have been reported to engage more right hemisphere (spatial) processing in comparison to English (Greenwald 2002; Luo et al. 2006; Wu et al. 1998; Yan et al. 2009; Tan et al. 2000, 2001). It has also been hypothesized that this enhanced right hemisphere (spatial) processing may bias native Chinese speakers towards the use of a spatial/holistic MR strategy, one that is a byproduct of their native language acquisition and usage. …

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