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The Magazine of The College of Sciences

Uno, One or 1: Does it make a difference
in math class?

Using non-invasive recordings of brain activity, scientists like Assistant Professor of Biology Nicole Wicha will be able to determine whether see that the brain actually uses arithmetic concepts like addition and subtraction differently depending on the language in which they are presented.

“Neuroscientists have just begun to study how the brain processes simple numerical calculations,” said Wicha. “Bilinguals pose an interesting problem for the field because they have two languages to represent the same mathematical concepts.”

Wicha’s findings suggest that people who are bilingual are faster and more accurate at processing calculations, such as simple multiplication, if those calculations are given in the language in which they originally learned them, even if they are more proficient in another language.

Wicha has been awarded $150,000 over the next two years from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to study how the bilingual brain computes simple mathematical calculations. The grant is the result of a collaborative effort between Wicha, who studies the underpinnings of the bilingual brain, and Elena Salillas, a math cognition scholar who recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Wicha’s neuroscience laboratory.

Nicole Wicha earned her doctorate in cognitive science from the University of California, San Diego. She joined the UTSA Department of Biology and Neurosciences Institute in 2005.

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