Speaking more than one language can not only make travel less of a hassle — it may also enhance mental health.
Investigators combined behavioral research with neuroimaging technology to determine the effect of bilingualism on cognitive skills and as protection from symptoms of dementia.
The research raises the possibility that increasing diversity in world populations may have an unexpected positive impact on the resiliency of the adult brain.
“Previous studies have established that bilingualism has a beneficial effect on cognitive development in children,” said lead study author Ellen Bialystok, a Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology at York University in Toronto. “In our paper, we reviewed recent studies using both behavioral and neuroimaging methods to examine the effects of bilingualism on cognition in adults.”
In the study, researchers discuss the intriguing finding that as an individual monitors two languages — in a quest to determine which language is more appropriate – brain regions are activated that pertain to general attention and cognitive control.
Researchers believe use of the cognitive control networks for bilingual language processing may reconfigure and strengthen them. The internal exercise may enhance “mental flexibility,” the ability to adapt to ongoing changes and process information efficiently.
Researchers say that the studies also suggest that bilingualism improves “cognitive reserve,” the protective effect that stimulating mental or physical activity has on cognitive functioning in healthy aging.
Cognitive reserve is believed to slow the onset of symptoms in those suffering from dementia. This premise is supported by studies showing that bilinguals experience onset symptoms of dementia years later than monolinguals.
“Our conclusion is that lifelong experience in managing attention to two languages reorganizes specific brain networks, creating a more effective basis for executive control and sustaining better cognitive performance throughout the lifespan,” said Bialystok.
“It should not be surprising that intense and sustained experience leaves its mark on our minds and brains, and it is now clear that the bilingual brain has been uniquely shaped by experience.”
The paper published by Cell Press in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
Source: Cell Press