Neural and Cognitive Inhibition in Bilinguals

Grant Winners

  • Mercedes Fernandez, PhD – Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences
  • Daniela Padron – Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences
  • Alicia Harnisch – Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences

Dean

  • Don Rosenblum Ph.D. – Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

Award Winners

Scientists believe that the benefits of bilingualism extend beyond language into areas of attention and cognitive flexibility. Studies suggest that compared to monolinguals, bilinguals have better working memory, are able to ignore task-irrelevant information, and are better at switching between tasks. These advantages have been observed on behavioral tasks assessing cognitive abilities. However, research to date has not evaluated whether these enhanced abilities affect brain function. Thus, the purpose of this study is to measure the brain's electrical activity while bilinguals and monolinguals perform cognitive tasks where a bilingual advantage has been documented. Specifically, we will measure event related brain potentials (ERP), which are the brains electrical activity in response to stimuli, to compare how bilinguals and monolinguals process information. Moreover, we will collaborate with Dr. Gold from the University of Kentucky who has been collecting brain-imaging data on bilinguals and monolinguals. By combining his imaging data with our ERP data, we will be able to evaluate whether the brain areas that are active while performing cognitive tasks during imaging are consistent with brain areas associated with ERP measures. It is expected that ERP findings will parallel the findings on cognitive tasks, with bilinguals exhibiting more efficient processing. This study addresses the important topic of how experience can modify brain function and ability. If we can demonstrate a relationship between bilingualism and neural activity, then this will open avenues of inquiry related to ways of enhancing brain performance.