Russian scientists from the Higher School of Economics have experimentally proved that proficiency in several languages has a positive effect on the functioning of the human brain. The results are published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
It is believed that people who speak two or more languages are more attentive and better adapt to multitasking. However, experiments do not always confirm this. For example, when comparing bilingual children from the Basque Country to Spanish monolingual children, no benefit was found to be proficient in a second language.
Where a positive effect was confirmed, studies were often conducted on limited samples, both in terms of the number of subjects and their socioeconomic status: bilinguals were recruited from among immigrants or ethnic minorities who occupy a different position in society than representatives of the monolingual majority.
To eliminate the problem of respondent heterogeneity, researchers from the Higher School of Economics, in collaboration with their foreign colleagues, decided to test the effect of bilingualism on brain function in a homogeneous group.
"The imbalance of parameters in group experiments is a common problem in behavioral research," says Yuri Shtyrov, Leading Researcher at the Center for Neuroeconomics and Cognitive Research and Scientific Director of the Institute of Cognitive Neurosciences at the Higher School of Economics. including social ones, which are difficult to control in one experiment."
The researchers selected 57 students of the Higher School of Economics as subjects for whom the second language was not their first language, like bilinguals, but appeared in their lives while studying at school. The subjects knew English at different levels - who is better, who is worse. The researchers suggested that the level of proficiency in a second language should correlate with the performance of the cognitive control function.
“Our working hypothesis was,” explains Andrei Myachikov, one of the authors of the study, “that the better the subject speaks a second language, the more they use it., the greater the effect of improving the performance of cognitive control will be."
The authors first tested the participants for their knowledge of English, and then tested their level of cognitive control using the mindfulness test, which measures the speed of a person's reaction.
The essence of the test was that the subject had to press the correct key on the keyboard as soon as possible when a certain stimulus appeared on the screen. This test checks the activation of the so-called attention networks, which are responsible for maintaining alertness, focusing attention and switching attention from one stimulus to another.
The results of the study showed the relationship between the level of proficiency in a foreign language and cognitive control. The better the students were in the language, the faster they solved the test problems.
This study shows that using an approach that takes into account the relative level of proficiency in a second language provides more information for assessing the relationship of this parameter with cognitive abilities.