Tag Archives: Ellen Bialystok

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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Musical Training Enhances “Executive Functions” of Planned Behavior, Cognitive Performance

Jennifer Zuk

Jennifer Zuk

Christopher Benjamin

Christopher Benjamin

Musical training is associated with well-developed “executive functions (EF)” – the cognitive capacities that enable intentional, controlled behavior and strong academic performance, according to Harvard University’s Jennifer Zuk, Christopher Benjamin, Arnold Kenyon, and Nadine Gaab.

“Executive functions (EF)” include:

John Best

John Best

Executive functions are required for academic readiness and long-term achievement, according to University of British Columbia’s John R Best, Patricia H Miller of San Francisco State University, and University of Virginia’s Jack A Naglieri.

Specific activities improve EF skills, even among children:

  • Kimberley Lakes

    Kimberley Lakes

    Martial arts, found University of California, Irvine’s Kimberly D. Lakes and William Hoyt

  • Lisa Flook

    Lisa Flook

    Mindfulness training, shown in research by UCLA’s Lisa Flook, Susan L. Smalley, M. Jennifer Kitil, Brian M. Galla, Susan Kaiser-Greenland, Jill Locke, Eric Ishijima, and Connie Kasari

  • Laura Chaddock-Heyman

    Laura Chaddock-Heyman

    Physical exercise, noted by University of Illinois’s Laura Chaddock, Michelle W Voss, Matt VanPatter, Matthew B. Pontifex, Charles H. Hillman, Arthur Kramer with Kirk I Erickson of University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State’s Ruchika S Prakash.

Individuals with musical training demonstrate enhanced:

  • Lisianne Hoch

    Lisianne Hoch

    Mathematical achievement, found Auckland University of Technology’s Lisianne Hoch and Barbara Tillmann University of Lyon.

Zuk and team compared adult working musicians and non-musicians, as well as children with at least two years of musical training and those with no previous musical training on cognitive ability tests of verbal fluency, mental processing speed, and working memory.

Nadine Gaab

Nadine Gaab

Adult musicians showed enhanced performance on measures of cognitive flexibility, working memory, and verbal fluency, compared to non-musicians.

Children performed a separate mental task while their brains were scanned using fMRI technology, and musically-trained children showed enhanced performance on measures of verbal fluency and cognitive processing speed.

They also showed significantly greater activation in supplementary motor area (SMA), pre-supplementary area (pre-SMA), and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) during rule representation and task-switching tasks, compared to musically-untrained children.

This research suggests that current trends to eliminate arts programs in public schools could have a negative impact on development of academic achievement and job-related cognitive skills.

By implication, musical training may correlate with strong performance in pre-professional intern experiences and long term job performance, and remains to be verified by researchers and job recruiters.

-*Have you observed a relationship between musical training and on-the-job performance?

-*To what extent do physical exercise, martial arts, and mindfulness training increase cognitive task performance?

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Does Music Training Improve Other Skills?

Considerable research indicates that training in music theory and performance is associated with better performance on quantitative, reasoning, visual, and motor tasks, but recent findings offer a counterpoint.

Leonid Perlovsky

Leonid Perlovsky

Among the evidence supporting the benefits of musical training, De Rochebelle School (C.S.D.D)’s Arnaud Cabanac collaborated with Leonid Perlovsky of Harvard University, Canadian Air Force Research Laboratory’s Marie-Claude Bonniot-Cabanac, and Michel Cabanac of Laval University to report that student musicians earned better grades than peers and performed better on a more stressful, complicated tasks.

Michel Cabanac

Michel Cabanac

German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin)’s Adrian Hille and Jürgen Schupp, also of Free University of Berlin (FUB), concurred that long-term music training during childhood and youth affects cognitive skills development, school grades.

Adrian Hille

Adrian Hille

They examined data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) and found that adolescents with music training have better cognitive skills and school grades and were 15 percent more likely to report planning to attend a university.

In addition, these young musicians were more conscientious, open and ambitious across socio-economic statuses.
These improvements in cognitive and non-cognitive skills were more than twice as great as the contribution of sports, theater or dance training and participation.

Sylvain Moreno

Sylvain Moreno

Preschool children, too, demonstrated enhanced performance on a measure of verbal intelligence after participating in an interactive computerized music training, according to Rotman Research Institute’s Sylvain Moreno with University of Toronto colleagues E. Glenn Schellenberg and Tom Chau, who collaborated with York University’s Ellen Bialystok, Raluca Barac, and Nicholas J. Cepeda.  

They reported that after just 20 days of this computer-based music training, these children showed improvement on verbal tasks, and related changes in functional brain plasticity during an executive-function task.

Frances Rauscher

Frances Rauscher

Musical training was associated with better performance on auditory discrimination and fine motor tasks among children who had three years or more musical instrument training, according to University of Wisconsin’s Frances H. Rauscher with Gordon L. Shaw, and Catherine N. Ky of University of California, Irvine.

Marie Forgeard

Marie Forgeard

Children who received at least three years of instrumental music training outperformed their control counterparts on auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills, vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills in studies by University of Pennsylvania’s Marie Forgeard, with Andrea Norton, and Gottfried Schlaug of Harvard Medical School’s and Boston College’s Ellen Winner.

These performance enhancements were associated with duration of musical training, but Forgeard’s team did not replicate earlier findings of enhanced  spatial skills, phonemic awareness, and mathematical abilities.

In a sample of music listeners instead of music learners, National Cheng Kung University’s Pei-Luen Tsai and colleagues found that stroke patients in Taiwan showed improved visual attention while listening to classical music, compared with white noise and silence.

Samuel Mehr

Samuel Mehr

Despite this affirmative evidence, Samuel Mehr of Harvard University, who plays saxophone, flute, bassoon, oboe, and clarinet, found no evidence of a cognitive benefit when young children receive music lessons.

With Harvard colleagues Adena Schachner, Rachel C. Katz, and Elizabeth S. Spelke, Mehr conducted two Randomized Control Trials (RCT) with four year old preschool children to evaluate the cognitive effects of music classes, compared with non-musical visual arts instruction or to a no instruction.

After six weeks, the team evaluated children’s skills in:

  • Spatial-navigational reasoning
  • Visual form analysis
  • Numerical discrimination
  • Receptive vocabulary.
Adena Schachner

Adena Schachner

Although their initial findings suggested improved performance for children who received musical training, the team was unable to replicate the finding.
The team found a small positive effect of music instruction on intelligence in only one study.

They reported that children who participated in music classes performed no better than those with visual arts or no classes on any assessment.

Elizabeth Spelke

Elizabeth Spelke

Mehr and team concluded that before asserting cognitive benefits of music training, it is essential to:

-*What benefits on performance in other areas have you observed among people who have musical training?

-*How do you evaluate conflicting evidence for and against musical training’s impact on cognitive performance?

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