Scientists found a strong argument for learning another language – bilingual people have an “advantage” because they use less brain power to accomplish tasks, helping their brains to age better.
The study compared functional brain connections between monolingual and bilingual seniors and found brains of those who spoke two languages were more economical in how they processed information, utilizing fewer resources.
The study looked at performance of “interference control tasks” by the two groups. The tasks participants carried out involved concentrating on the color of objects while ignoring their positions. When focused on visual information (while ignoring spatial), brains of bilinguals used less circuitry. In contrast, monolingual brains engaged a number of brain regions to perform the given task, relying especially on brain areas located in the frontal lobe, which are responsible for visual and motor functions as well as interference control.
The Canadian researchers were led by Professor Ana Inés Ansaldo from the Université de Montréal.
“After years of daily practice managing interference between two languages, bilinguals become experts at selecting relevant information and ignoring information that can distract from a task. In this case, bilinguals showed higher connectivity between visual processing areas located at the back of the brain. This area is specialized in detecting the visual characteristics of objects and therefore is specialized in the task used in this study. These data indicate that the bilingual brain is more efficient and economical, as it recruits fewer regions and only specialized regions,” said Dr. Ansaldo.
Another cognitive advantage of processing information differently is that bilinguals achieve the same results as the monolinguals without using the frontal areas of the brain, which are more susceptible to the effects of aging. This also helps bilinguals fight off degenerative diseases like dementia.
Dr. Ansaldo described the next stage for her research this way:
“We have observed that bilingualism has a concrete impact on brain function and that this may have a positive impact on cognitive aging. We now need to study how this function translates to daily life, for example, when concentrating on one source of information instead of another, which is something we have to do every day. And we have yet to discover all the benefits of bilingualism”.
Cover photo credit: Wikimedia Commons