Neuroplasticity, bilingualism, and mental mathematics: A behavior-MEG study

Brain Cogn. 2019 Aug;134:122-134. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2019.03.006. Epub 2019 Apr 8.


Bilingual experience alters brain structure and enhances certain cognitive functions. Bilingualism can also affect mathematical processing. Reduced accuracy is commonly reported when arithmetic problems are presented in bilinguals' second (L2) vs. first (L1) language. We used MEG brain imaging during mental addition to characterize spatiotemporal dynamics during mental addition in bilingual adults. Numbers were presented auditorally and sequentially in bilinguals' L1 and L2, and brain and behavioral data were collected simultaneously. Behaviorally, bilinguals showed lower accuracy for two-digit addition in L2 compared to L1. Brain data showed stronger response magnitude in L2 versus L1 prior to calculation, especially when two-digit numbers were involved. Brain and behavioral data were significantly correlated. Taken together, our results suggest that differences between languages emerge prior to mathematical calculation, with implications for the role of language in mathematics.

Keywords: Bilinguals; Magnetoencephalography (MEG); Mental calculation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Multilingualism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Young Adult