"Being bilingual may delay Alzheimer's and boost brain power..."
macw at cmu.edu
Tue Feb 22 02:17:35 UTC 2011
Dear Elissa, Monica, Ellen, Tom, and Colleagues,
Yes, I was thinking of the Hakuta and Diaz article and others that raised similar issues at that time, when expressing worries about the role of SES. Hakuta and Diaz found strong relations between amount of bilingualism and IQ in kids, as measured by Raven's matrices and picture vocabulary. When SES was partialled out, the correlation decreased to a level that was still significant, but just barely. One question is whether including further attitudinal and class-based measures may have removed further variance.
But the issue in this symposium and posting was not about kid's IQ, but protection against Alzheimer's Disease (AD). On that front, the results of the Craik, Bialystok, and Freedman paper (Neurology 2010) are quite impressive, much like the results for nuns who keep a diary.
In this study of AD and bilingualism, the bilinguals entered Toronto's Baycrest clinic at an average age of 75.5, whereas the monolinguals entered at the age of 71.4. Moreover, as Ellen Bialystok noted in an email to me (she can't post to FunkNet), they did indeed control for SES. They also note that the bilingual groups differed from the monolingual group in two regards. First, the bilinguals were far more likely to be immigrants than the monolinguals. Second, the monolinguals had more schooling, which makes the result even more impressive, although the authors note that this may have been a result of disorder in Europe during World War II.
One interesting issue here is whether the four years of protection against the onset of AD that appears in the bilingual group is a result of bilingualism or immigrant status. I might offer a third possibility, which is that protection against a rapid onset of AD arises not from bilingualism, but from the overall cognitive and perceptual challenges presented by biculturalism. I batted this idea around with a couple of my connectionist colleagues this afternoon and they said that they interpret these protection results as applying to any system that manages to construct "deep attractors". The idea is that years spent paying attention to fine details will give one at least a few years to be able to overcome the initial effect of AD deterioration, before control is no longer possible.
The Toronto study is very persuasive and informative regarding AD. But, I am still concerned about the broader issue of general advantages accruing from bilingualism throughout the lifespan. There are certainly advantages in areas such as task switching and attention, but I would like to see these studies of bilingualism in high-SES communities such as Canada matched by studies of the effects of bilingualism in more diverse social and cultural configurations.
-- Brian MacWhinney
On Feb 21, 2011, at 4:27 PM, Elissa Asp wrote:
> It is standard practice to control for potential demographic confounds
> such as education, occupational history (and in this case immigration
> history and fluency) and so on in this type of study. This paper was not
> an exception to that practice. You can read it in the journal
> "Neurology". (There's a link to the abstract and the journal in the BBC
> article.) Regards, Elissa
> On Mon, 2011-02-21 at 15:50 -0500, Brian MacWhinney wrote:
>> Dear Colleagues,
>> Does this work control for SES? In the old days of research on IQ and bilingualism, the target populations were lower-SES Welsh miners (as in the depictions in "How Green Was My Valley") and the results showed that their bilingualism was "subtractive". In this age of globalization, on the other hand, the bililngual groups being studied often have certain educational and social advantages and now we find that bilingualism is "additive" and "protective". Of course, these advantaged groups have better access to health care, better diets, better working conditions, and so on (as in the Belsky model of SES effects). Don't we need comparisons that contrast these various social configurations, before we can conclude that bilingualism per se has these positive effects. But perhaps the symposium or some of the research papers produced by this illustrious group of researchers has already tackled this issue? I would love pointers to papers clarifying this issue.
>> -- Brian MacWhinney
>> On Feb 20, 2011, at 9:45 PM, Lise Menn wrote:
>>> AAAS Section Z: Linguistics and Language Sciences are proud to have sponsored this symposium, with presentations by organizer Judith Kroll and by Janet Werker, Karen Emmorey, Teresa Bajo, Sonja Kotz, and Ellen Bialystok. The evidence presented was very impressive.
>>> Thanks for posting the link, Alex.
>>> Lise Menn, Secretary, Section Z
>>> On Feb 20, 2011, at 5:27 PM, alex gross wrote:
>>>> Here's some pleasant news from The Guardian, at least for those of us fortunate enough to be bi- or multi-lingual...assuming it doesn't get contradicted by another set of texts next month...
>>>> All the best to everyone!
>>> Lise Menn Home Office: 303-444-4274
>>> 1625 Mariposa Ave Fax: 303-413-0017
>>> Boulder CO 80302
>>> home page: http://spot.colorado.edu/~menn/
>>> Professor Emerita of Linguistics
>>> Fellow, Institute of Cognitive Science
>>> University of Colorado
>>> Secretary, AAAS Section Z [Linguistics]
>>> Fellow, Linguistic Society of America
>>> Campus Mail Address:
>>> UCB 594, Institute for Cognitive Science
>>> Campus Physical Address:
>>> CINC 234
>>> 1777 Exposition Ave, Boulder
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