Valantis Fyndanis (U. Oslo)
Does bi-/multilingualism make academics even ‘smarter’? Evidence from Norway
While it is well established that healthy older speakers exhibit age-related cognitive decline, a growing body of research suggests that both simultaneous bi-/multilingualism and successive bi-/multilingualism are associated with cognitive benefits, enhancing aspects of executive functioning in healthy older speakers and even delaying the onset of dementia (for a recent review, see Bialystok, 2017). It has recently been argued (e.g., Bialystok et al, 2014) that a bilingualism-driven cognitive benefit is more likely to be detected in nonverbal cognitive tasks than in verbal tasks. Interestingly, a bilingual advantage has been found not only in people who speak two or more languages, but also in infants who are only exposed to two languages (e.g., Pons et al., 2015). This suggests that not only speaking, but also listening to two or more languages may confer a cognitive advantage. However, the bilingual advantage has been called into question because of potential confounding factors involved in several studies, such as immigration status, socioeconomic status, and educational level. Moreover, it has been suggested that bi-/multilingualism should be treated as a continuous and not as a categorical variable, as is usually the case.
This study investigates whether different degrees of bi-/multilingualism in different modalities (speaking, writing, listening, reading) have a differential effect on the cognitive abilities of healthy older individuals who are of the same immigration status and of similar socioeconomic status and educational level. The study also explores if a bilingual advantage only emerges in nonverbal cognitive tasks.
Eighty three healthy older native speakers of Norwegian differing in the degree of bi-/multilingualism were tested with tasks tapping verbal and nonverbal inhibition and switching, as well as nonverbal fluid intelligence. All participants were university professors and had learned a foreign language after the age of 5. None of them were immigrants.
Bialystok, E. (2017). The bilingual adaptation: How minds accommodate experience. Psychological Bulletin, 143, 233–262.
Bialystok, E., Poarch, G., Luo, L., & Craik, F. I. (2014). Effects of bilingualism and aging on executive function and working memory. Psychology and Aging, 29, 696–705
Pons, F., Bosch, L., & Lewkowicz, D. J. (2015). Bilingualism modulates infants’ selective attention to the mouth of a talking face. Psychological Science, 26, 490–498.