Date: Mar. 2, 2017:  1pm – 2:30pm Dunton Tower 2203

Speaker: Shanna Kousaie, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University

Title: The Impact of Bilingualism on Cognition and the Brain

Abstract: It is estimated that more than 50% of the world’s population is bilingual; however, the majority of language research has focused on monolinguals. Furthermore, the last decade has seen a surge in research suggesting that bilingual language experience has an impact not only on language processing, but also on cognition more globally.

The primary goal of my research is to increase our understanding of the interaction between language experience, cognition, and the brain. In this talk, I will discuss three separate, but interrelated lines of research that examine these interactions. First, I will discuss my research that uses event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to examine how bilinguals differ from monolinguals in terms of cognitive control. I will show that there are language group differences in how the brain responds to conflict that are suggestive of an advantage for bilinguals, even in the absence of behavioural differences. I will then present research examining the influence of bilingual language experience on a language-processing task that places demands on cognitive control. Using ERPs I show that bilinguals demonstrate differences in the processing of lexical ambiguity compared to monolinguals, suggesting a potential effect of bilingualism on the interaction between cognitive control and language processing. Finally, I will discuss recent work that is using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine how language experience is related to brain structure and function. Specifically, I will show that different language learning experiences impact resting-state brain networks, and will briefly discuss how this can be further explored using EEG.

These results demonstrate that bilingualism exerts a positive influence on the brain, beyond simply the ability to communicate in more than one language. Furthermore, a greater understanding of the mechanism(s) through which language experience impacts the brain and cognition has implications for our understanding of brain plasticity. The findings from this research program can influence and inform educational policy, language learning abilities, and models of language and cognitive development/decline.

Note: you are welcome to bring your lunch.

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