Researchers from the University of Houston and the Northwestern University have published a new research that suggested that bilinguals use their brains more efficiently than monolinguals. The study aimed to look into the inhibition and co-activation in the brain. The latter is the ability to simultaneously have both languages actin in the brain while inhibition is the ability to correctly choose the right language while simultaneously hearing more than one.
According to the study, which has been published in the Brain and Language Journal, bilinguals use less brain power when completing their tasks.
The researchers tested several participants: 17 bilingual English and Spanish speakers and 18 English-only speakers who are all fluent in these languages. All of the test subjects were picked by scoring similarly in working memory tests. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI scans while doing their research. They had the participants do several tasks involving language comprehension where they were made to identity objects after they heard a word delivered to them through their headphones. Some of the words and images were somewhat similar in pronunciation such as “clown” and “cloud.”
According to Viorica Marian, the lead researcher and communication sciences and disorders professor at Northwestern University, although both groups took the same amount of time to accurately identify the objects, the brains of the monolinguals worked harder. It was identified that the monolinguals’ brains worked harder when it had to inhibit control in accomplishing the same goal as the bilinguals.
The fMRI showed them what was exactly happening in the brain as the test was being conducted, according to Sarah Chabal, the author of the study and a PhD candidate in communications sciences and disorders in the same university. She said that the fMRI measures the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, thereby allowing them to see which parts of the brain were working harder. The flow is stronger in the brains of monolinguals, meaning that these individuals need more energy to finish the tasks.
In their earlier research, Professor Marian said that they studied the eye movements of participants who speak both English and Russian fluently while conducting a simple test of identifying objects. Before the test subjects were told to identify the object, they heard a word that sounded almost the same audibly, but can be a different thing in English or Russian. For example “marker” could be a stamp or an actual marker in English, while in Russian, it is called “marka.” After hearing the word and told to identify the object, the researchers monitored their eye movements to see which object they would look at initially. What they found out was that for the bilinguals, none of the languages were turned off, but their brains performed inhibitory control to choose which language to use to identify the correct object. From there, Professor Marian’s research team proceeded to study the impact language has on neurological activity.
The results showed that bilinguals’ brains are quicker in making connections to the right words and throughout the course of the study, bilinguals performed consistently. Therefore it could be surmised that it might be better to take up a new language than spend endless hours solving puzzles as a brain exercise.