Judges’ Queries and Presenter’s Replies

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Presentation Discussion

  • Icon for: Debra Bernstein

    Debra Bernstein

    May 22, 2012 | 11:46 a.m.

    Hi Susan,
    Thanks for sharing – I really enjoyed your poster and video.

    In your poster, you found an advantage for Spanish-Catalan bilinguals with respect to a cognitive control task. Is there a reason you chose these 2 languages for this task? Would you predict the same result with any 2 languages, or do you think the specific languages make a difference?


  • May 22, 2012 | 12:21 p.m.

    Hi Debra,
    That’s a great question! One reason I chose to examine the cognitive control abilities of Spanish-Catalan bilinguals, as opposed other bilinguals, is because the Spanish-Catalan community in Barcelona is one of the few in which both languages are learned from an early age and used on a daily basis. As such, Spanish-Catalan bilinguals will have a greater need to monitor for language switches and control their language use (e.g., flexibly suppress and reactivate a language), than bilinguals in an environment that primarily uses one language. It is thought that these language switches act as a sort of cognitive training and are thus responsible for the observed bilingual advantage in cognitive control.
    Advantages in cognitive control have been found for other types of bilinguals (for example, French-English bilinguals), so I do not think that our results are specific to Spanish-Catalan bilinguals. However, the bilingual advantage may be specific to the type of bilingual experience; for instance, it might only be observed in early bilinguals, whose bilingual experience might shape the early neural development of pre-frontal brain regions that are involved in cognitive control, or in code-switching bilinguals, who switch between their languages on a daily basis. Further research needs to be conducted to determine the extent to which different bilingual language experiences influence cognitive abilities.

  • Icon for: Debra Bernstein

    Debra Bernstein

    May 23, 2012 | 03:00 p.m.

    From what you’ve said, it seems that your subject population was a good choice. Thanks very much, Susan!

  • Further posting is closed as the competition has ended.

Icon for: Susan Teubner-Rhodes


University of Maryland at College Park
Years in Grad School: 4

Does bilingualism make you smarter? An investigation of language and cognitive control.

Speaking two languages proficiently from childhood (balanced bilingualism) may benefit cognition. On tasks requiring cognitive control (CC)—the ability to override conflict from extraneous information—bilinguals often outperform monolinguals. This may be due to bilinguals’ frequent suppression of one language over another, acting as naturalistic “cognitive-control training.” The scope of the “bilingual advantage” is poorly understood. We investigated if bilinguals’ benefit includes the ability to revise misinterpretations during language processing, motivated by research showing that, in monolinguals, CC recruits the same cortical regions as correcting language comprehension errors. We also tested if briefly practicing a memory task with high conflict-resolution demands (short-term CC training) improves reinterpretation. Spanish-Catalan bilinguals and Spanish monolinguals read easy sentences and sentences susceptible to misinterpretation, before and after completing either a high- or low-conflict “3-back” memory task. While reading, subjects answered questions testing for misanalysis. The memory task presented words sequentially and subjects indicated when one appeared 3 items previously. Only the high-conflict version contained “lure” words presented 2, 4, or 5 items before, interfering with the correct 3-back item. Bilinguals outperformed monolinguals in the high-conflict, but not low-conflict, version; they also exhibited better reading comprehension across all sentences. Irrespective of group, subjects’ improvement on “lure” trials during the experiment predicted pretest-to-posttest comprehension improvement on sentences requiring revision. For some, briefly practicing conflict-resolution increases CC, benefiting subsequent sentence-reinterpretation skills. Thus, bilingualism may bestow an advantage when conflict-detection is crucial, including during language processing involving occasional reinterpretation demands. Critically, CC training in monolinguals may yield similar benefits.