It is already well known that the experience of speaking another language changes the structure  of the brain and how it functions.

Bilinguals Have ‘Superfocus’

People who speak more than one language may have a ‘bilingual advantage’ in their ability to stay focused.

According to a new study, bilingual individuals are equipped with enhanced attentional control abilities, allowing them to concentrate better on specific tasks than their monolingual counterparts. Researchers suggest this may be the result of a lifetime of switching between different languages.

The researchers recruited 99 participants to partake in three psychological tests. Of the participants, 48 were highly proficient in both English and Chinese, and 51 were English monolingual speakers. The bilingual individuals each learned English before the age of 10, and switch between both languages daily.

Researchers investigated the difference in response times between these two groups based on stimuli presented in tests on a computer screen.

While it was previously thought that bilingualism led to enhanced inhibitory control, the researchers found that this is not the case, reports dailymail.co.uk.

Rather than heightened inhibitory controls, which would allow them to tune out unnecessary information, the researchers say bilingual individuals instead have better attentional control abilities. This allows them to concentrate on a specific stimulus.

“While there is plenty of evidence that there are cognitive benefits to being bilingual, there are also scholars that question the evidence due to replication failures,” says Dr. Andrea Krott of University of Birmingham.

“Our findings suggest that the way the data has been analyzed might not have only led to the wrong conclusion that bilinguals have superior inhibition abilities, it might have also contributed to these replication failures.”

Together with other evidence, the research suggests that the lifetime task of switching between languages appears to enhance the ability to maintain attention.

In the study, the participants showed similar results in inhibiting the interfering stimuli. But, bilinguals were often faster to respond. This suggests they are better able to sustain attention on the task at hand than those who speak just one language, the researchers say.

“It is already well known that the experience of speaking another language changes the structure of the brain and how it functions, but we do not understand very well how these changes lead to changes in behavior,” Krott says. “That is the next challenge.”

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