Being bilingual may help you better ignore irrelevant information

New York, Nov 22 (IANS) People who speak two languages may be better at shifting their attention from one thing to another compared to those who speak one, according to a study.

New York: People who speak two languages may be better at shifting their attention from one thing to another compared to those who speak one, according to a study.

The study defined bilinguals as people who had learned both their first and second language before the ages of 9 to 12 and were still using both languages.

The study, published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, examined differences between bilingual and monolingual individuals when it comes to attentional control and ignoring information that isn’t important at the time, said the researchers.

“Our results showed that bilinguals seem to be more efficient at ignoring information that’s irrelevant, rather than suppressing — or inhibiting information,” said Grace deMeurisse, doctoral student at University of Florida.

“One explanation for this is that bilinguals are constantly switching between two languages and need to shift their attention away from the language not in use,” she added.

For example, if an English- and Spanish-speaking person is having a conversation in Spanish, both languages are active, but English is put on hold but always ready to be deployed as needed. Numerous studies have examined the distinctions between the two groups in broad cognitive mechanisms, which are mental processes that our brains use, like memory, attention, problem-solving, and decision-making, deMeurisse said.

The team set out to see if differences between the two groups would surface and used a task that had not been applied in psycholinguistics before called the Partial Repetition Cost task to measure the participants’ abilities to deal with incoming information and control their attention. “We found that bilinguals seem to be better at ignoring information that’s irrelevant,” said Edith Kaan, Professor in the department of linguistics at the varsity.

The two groups of subjects included functional monolinguals and bilinguals. Functional monolinguals were defined as those who had two years or less of a foreign language experience in a classroom and use only the first language that they learned as a child.

Kaan explained that an individual’s cognitive traits continuously adapt to external factors, and as humans, we have very few traits that remain fixed throughout our lifetime.

“Our cognition is continuously adapting to the situation, so in this case it’s adapting to being bilingual,” she said.

“It doesn’t mean it won’t change, so if you stop using the second language, your cognition may change as well.”

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