Tag Archives: basal ganglia

Bilingual Competence Strengthens Brain’s “Executive Control,” “Adaptive Modulation”

Andrea Stocco

Andrea Stocco

Learning a second language in childhood or later in life provides numerous benefits, including:

  • Increased cultural awareness,
  • Enhanced creativity,
  • Possibly delaying cognitive deterioration associated with dementia.

Bilingual individuals excel on several cognitive measures, including “executive control”, measured by speed in applying new rules and switching tasks on a Rapid Instructed Task Learning (RITL) paradigm, according to University of Washington’s Andrea Stocco and Chantel S. Prat.

Chantel Prat

Chantel Prat

In addition, bilingual volunteers showed greater “adaptive modulation” of the brain’s the basal ganglia striatal activity, suggesting that competence in multiple languages changes brain activation patterns and structures.

Bilingual people’s performance advantages in executive functioning may develop as they adaptively select and apply different rules when speaking multiple languages, surmised Stocco and Prat.
They suggested that this behavioral flexibility may strengthen the brain’s fronto-striatal loops that connect to the prefrontal cortex.

The team evaluated 17 bilingual and 14 monolingual volunteers on their language proficiency and arithmetic problems defined by a set of operations and two uniquely-specified inputs.
Participants completed practice problems using just two operation sets, then tackled another set combining new items and some from the practice set.
For the final round, volunteers completed new and practice items while in an fMRI brain scanner.

Bilinguals completed the new problems significantly more quickly than monolinguals, although both groups performed similarly on familiar items, suggesting that people with multiple language competence may have an advantage in rapidly processing new information and unfamiliar challenges.

The physiological basis for this performance difference was revealed by the fMRI scan:  There was increased activity during work on novel problems in the bilingual volunteers’ basal ganglia.
This brain area is associated with learning linked to rewards and motor functions, and to prioritizing information before directing it to the prefrontal cortex for further processing. 

Ellen Bialystok

Ellen Bialystok

This research suggests that learning multiple languages trains the basal ganglia to switch more efficiently between the rules and vocabulary of different languages, a skill which can generalize to other tasks such as arithmetic.

Michelle Martin-Rhee

Michelle Martin-Rhee

The roots of this cognitive advantage is based on childhood bilingualism, which can also train inhibition of attention for perceptual information, found York University’s Ellen Bialystok and Michelle M. Martin-Rhee.

They noted that this effect was not due to differences in representational abilities because monolinguals ands bilinguals performed similarly on these tasks.
Bilingual preschoolers also showed greater creativity in non-mathematical and mathematical problem solving, reported University of Haifa’s Mark Leikin.

Mark Leikin

Mark Leikin

He compared bilingual children from a Hebrew–Russian kindergarten and a Hebrew monolingual kindergarten was well as monolingual children from a monolingual school on the Picture Multiple Solution task’s measure of general creativity and the Creating Equal Number task for mathematical creativity.
Bilingual children from the bilingual kindergarten showed significantly greater creativity on general and mathematical tasks than monolingual children.

Fergus I.M. Craik

Fergus I.M. Craik

Besides the benefit of enhanced creativity, bilingualism seems to be associated with later onset of dementia by four years, and less cognitive decline among more than 180 volunteers evaluated by York University’s Bialystok with Fergus I.M. Craik and Morris Freedman of University of Toronto.

Morris Freedman

Morris Freedman

They analyzed repeated Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scores and also found that elderly bilinguals performed better on switching attention between objects, as demonstrated in Stocco and Prat’s work.

Though learning a second language in adulthood is “an order of magnitude more difficult” than learning in childhood, according to Stocco and Prat, the cognitive benefits can make it worth the challenge and effort.

-*What benefits have you experienced associated with learning a second language or life-long fluency in another language?

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How the Brain Perceives Time So You Can Manage Time Demands, not Time

Many daily actions like perceiving through the senses, speaking, and walking require accurate timing, often to milliseconds.

These underlying brain mechanisms are crucial to determining causality, decoding temporal patterns, and managing “time demands,” a commitment to complete a task in the future.

Francis Wade

Francis Wade

Francis Wade suggests conducting a systemic diagnostic assessment of current time demand management practices to identify effective approaches, and those that can benefit from fine-tuning.
This leads to a plan that requires external support from people and technology.

But these processes depend on the brain’s accurate time perception.
-*How does the brain perceive time?

David Eagleman

David Eagleman

Baylor College of Medicine’s David M. Eagleman summarized extensive research that answers this question, with collaboration from Peter U. Tse of Dartmouth, UCLA’s Dean Buonomano, Peter Janssen of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, University of Oxford’s Anna Christina Nobre, and Alex O. Holcombe of Cardiff University.

Peter Tse

Peter Tse

One recent change to the prevailing view that the basal ganglia and cerebellar systems are the brain’s main timekeepers comes from University of New Mexico’s Deborah L. Harrington and Kathleen Y. Haaland.

Kathleen Haaland

Kathleen Haaland

They built on this finding in work with Robert T. Knight of University of California, Davis, investigating the cerebral cortex’s role in perceptual timekeeping by studying task performance of volunteers with focal left (LHD) or right hemisphere (RHD) lesions compared with uninjured participants.

Robert T. Knight

Robert T. Knight

The groups performed a time duration perception task and a frequency perception task, which controlled for non-time processes in both tasks.
Only people with right hemisphere cerebral cortex lesions showed time perception deficits, suggesting that this area also contributes to perceptual timekeeping

People with this damage who accurately perceived time were also able to switch nonspatial attention, implying that time perception and attention switching are linked.
This group had no damage in the premotor and prefrontal cortex, in contrast to those who performed poorly on the time perception.
These results indicate that premotor and prefrontal cortex areas also contribute to accurate time perception.

Richard Ivry

Richard Ivry

Neural systems underlying timing processes may point to remedies for brain injuries that involve motor timing irregularities such as Parkinson’s disease, according to UC Berkeley’s Richard Ivry and Rebecca Spencer of UMass.  

Rebecca Spencer

Rebecca Spencer

Medical University of South Carolina’s Catalin V. Buhusi and
 Warren H. Meck of Duke University suggest that subjective time perception or psychological time is represented by multiple “internal clocks” that judge duration relative to the relevant time context.

Catalin V. Buhusi

Catalin V. Buhusi

Richard Ivry reported that the cerebellum can be considered as operating multiple “internal clocks,” suggesting a physiological basis for Buhusi and Meck’s multi-clock construct.

-*How do you manage time demands for future performance?

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