In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell asserts that people living in rice producing countries are more likely than others to have mathematical aptitude because rice production is a very complex process that requires a great deal of spatial awareness and planning ahead. (I may have got this bit a little addled). Added to this is a clear linguistic structure which has a logical and transparent counting system. So when an Asian child is asked to add 37+22, s/he thinks ‘3 tens 7 + 2 tens 2’. The necessary equation is right there, embedded in the sentence. No number translation (as in 2+7 =9, 30+20=50, which makes 59) is necessary: it’s ‘5 tens 9’.  

More details of this theory are here:

Fascinating. I have read and enjoyed The Tipping Point and Blink and shall certainly get Outliers (hint to those thinking of Christmas presents). Gladwell can be criticised for superficiality if nothing else but he has a talent for communicating ideas and drawing together concepts from various disciplines to challenge one’s thinking. Always a good thing.