Recent behavioral data have shown that lifelong bilingualism can maintain youthful cognitive control abilities in aging. Here, we provide the first direct evidence of a neural basis for the bilingual cognitive control boost in aging. Two experiments were conducted, using a perceptual task-switching paradigm, including a total of 110 participants. In Experiment 1, older adult bilinguals showed better perceptual switching performance than their monolingual peers. In Experiment 2, younger and older adult monolinguals and bilinguals completed the same perceptual task-switching experiment while functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was performed. Typical age-related performance reductions and fMRI activation increases were observed. However, like younger adults, bilingual older adults outperformed their monolingual peers while displaying decreased activation in left lateral frontal cortex and cingulate cortex. Critically, this attenuation of age-related over-recruitment associated with bilingualism was directly correlated with better task-switching performance. In addition, the lower blood oxygenation level-dependent response in frontal regions accounted for 82% of the variance in the bilingual task-switching reaction time advantage. These results suggest that lifelong bilingualism offsets age-related declines in the neural efficiency for cognitive control processes.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Gold, Brian T.; Kim, Chobok; Johnson, Nathan F.; Kryscio, Richard J.; and Smith, Charles D., "Lifelong Bilingualism Maintains Neural Efficiency for Cognitive Control in Aging" (2013). Neuroscience Faculty Publications. 2.