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Lifelong Bilinguals Faster in Switching Tasks

Update Date: Jan 11, 2013 05:46 AM EST
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People who can speak more than one language with equal fluency since childhood may be in for a good surprise.

In a recent study conducted by the University Of Kentucky College Of Medicine, scientists have found that older bilingual people have a better ability to switch between tasks than their monolingual counterparts.

The result of the research was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The experiment was broken down into two segments. A total number of 110 people, aged between 60 and 68 years, were taken. Of the two segments, one had monolingual and the other bilingual people.

The tests were performed using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), which was used in the study to check and differentiate the brain activity pattern between the two segments of individuals. Healthy individuals from both segments were asked to perform a task.

It was found that though both bilingual and monolingual people were able to complete the task, the former took lesser time to complete the task than the latter, thus successfully demonstrating cognitive flexibility. Those individuals who were bilingual since childhood also used less energy, as was evident from the imaging of the frontal cortex of their brain.

"It is rather like a reserve tank in a car. When you run out of fuel, you can keep going for longer because there is a bit more in the safety tank," Dr. Ellen Bialystok said in an interview with the Guardian.

Dr. Bialystok is the lead researcher of the study, which revealed the higher cognitive backup available in older bilinguals.

The same is not the case of younger individuals, where being bilingual or monolingual does not affect the ability of that individual or the speed with which they perform a task. It was also noted that the overall speed of the young volunteers was higher than their older counterparts.

So, being bilingual since childhood not only benefits a person while travelling, it has also a long-term benefit in the speed of task performance when he/she is older.

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