Researchers Find Language Helps People Solve Spatial Problems

June 21, 2010, Wellesley College

(PhysOrg.com) -- By testing people who use an emerging sign language in Nicaragua, Wellesley College Assistant Professor of Psychology Jennie Pyers and her colleagues found that people who have more complex language skills are also better at finding hidden objects. The findings will be published in the June 21 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pyers tested two groups of deaf people who use the sign .

"Nicaraguan is only about 35 years old, and as a young language it is undergoing rapid change," Pyers explained. "The language is becoming more complex in the hands of the children of the community, and most older members of the community do not learn the new complexities introduced by the following generation. As a result, the language of the younger adults in the community is more complex than the language of the older adults."

The sign language allowed Pyers to compare younger and older adult signers who share a cultural environment (Managua, Nicaragua), but who have different levels of , to see how they compared in their knowledge about spatial environments.

"We found that the younger signers performed better on two spatial cognition tasks," Pyers said.

In one task, participants entered a small rectangular room with three black walls and one red wall. Identical cups were located in each of the four corners of the room. After watching the researcher hide a small object in one of the cups (to the left of the red wall), participants were blindfolded and slowly turned around until they were disoriented. They removed the blindfold and then searched for the small object.

A second task required people to rotate an object mentally. After watching the researcher hide a small object in one of four corner locations of a small box with three black walls and one red wall, the participants were blindfolded and the box was rotated. They removed their blindfold and searched for the hidden object in the rotated box.

In both experiments, the researchers found adults with more complex performed better than the adults with more basic skills.

"The younger signers performed as well as the average college undergraduate," Pyers found. "The older signers performed significantly worse than the younger signers, but better than children do."

By using this unique language environment in Nicaragua, and studying two generations of adults who share same culture, Pyers and her colleagues could identify for the first time the role of language in spatial cognition.

"The study shows that language, above and beyond brain maturation and cultural and environmental experience, helps people solve spatial problems," Pyers said.

More information: www.pnas.org/

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Reducing sessions of trauma-focused psychotherapy does not affect effectiveness

January 17, 2018
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients treated with as few as five sessions of trauma-focused psychotherapy find it equally effective as receiving 12 sessions.

How past intentions influence generosity toward the future

January 17, 2018
Over time, it really is the thought that counts – provided we know what that thought was, suggests new research from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

Tracking the impact of early abuse and neglect

January 17, 2018
Children who experience abuse and neglect early in life are more likely to have problems in social relationships and underachieve academically as adults.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.