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Bilingual Brains Think Quicker

Update Date: Nov 12, 2014 08:05 PM EST

Bilinguals have better brains, according to a new study.

Scientists from Northwestern University found that the brains of people who can speak multiple languages process information more efficiently and more effortlessly than their monolingual counterparts.

The latest study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to test co-activation, a term that describes having both language "active" at the same time, and inhibition in bilinguals. Researchers noted that inhibitory control involves selecting the correct language and suppressing the competing one.

Lead researcher Viorica Maria, a professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders in the School of Communication at Northwestern University, used MRI imaging to examine participants' brain flow during certain tasks. Researchers explained that difficult tasks trigger more blood flow.

Participants in the latest study were asked to perform language comprehension tasks. After hearing a word, participants were shown four pictures, including the picture of the word, and another of a similar sounding word. Participants had to recognize the correct word and ignore the similar-sounding competing word.

The findings revealed that bilingual speakers were significantly better at filtering out competing words. Brains scans also revealed that "monolinguals had more activation in the inhibitory control regions than bilinguals; they had to work much harder to perform the task," Marian said in a news release.

"Inhibitory control is a hallmark of cognition," said Marian. "Whether we're driving or performing surgery, it's important to focus on what really matters and ignore what doesn't."

"Using another language provides the brain built-in exercise. You don't have to go out of your way to do a puzzle because the brain is already constantly juggling two languages," she explained.

The findings are published in the journal Brain and Language.

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