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Dartmouth researchers find a neural signature of bilingualism

HANOVER, NH Dartmouth researchers have found areas in the brain that indicate bilingualism. The finding sheds new light on decades of debate about how the human brain's language centers may actually be enhanced when faced with two or more languages as opposed to only one. The study was presented at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting on October 14-18 in Atlanta, Ga.

The researchers used an optical imaging technology called Near Infrared Spectroscopy (or NIRS) as a new "microscope" into the human brain's higher cognitive capacities, and they are among the first to take advantage of this technology in this way. NIRS has been used in the detection of, for example, breast tumors and heart blood flow. The Dartmouth team used NIRS to measure changes in the brain's oxygen levels while people performed specific language and cognitive tasks.

Authors of the study are Mark Shalinsky, former post-doctoral fellow at Dartmouth now a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital; Ioulia Kovelman, formerly a Dartmouth graduate student currently a post-doctoral fellow at MIT; Melody Berens, currently a post-doctoral fellow at Dartmouth; and Laura-Ann Petitto, the study's senior scientific director, and professor and chair of the Department of Education at Dartmouth.

"NIRS provides much the same information as functional magnetic resonance imaging or 'fMRI,' but has several advantages over fMRI," says Shalinsky, the study's electro-neurophysiologist who created the analysis programs to use NIRS technology in this new way. NIRS technology is quiet, small and portable. It's only about the size of a desktop computer. It's child friendly, and it tolerates a participant's body movements, which makes it ideal for studying language where participants move their mouths to speak."

The NIRS showed similar increased brain activity across all people--monolinguals and bilinguals--in the brain's classic left-hemisphere language regions when
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Contact: Sue Knapp
Sue.Knapp@Dartmouth.edu
603-646-3661
Dartmouth College
17-Oct-2006


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