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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Neurol. | doi: 10.3389/fneur.2019.01122

Alerting, Orienting and Executive Control: The effect of bilingualism and age on the subcomponents of attention

  • 1Centre de Recherche de l'Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal (CRIUGM), Canada

Life-long experience of using two or more languages has been shown to enhance cognitive control abilities in young and elderly bilinguals in comparison to their monolingual peers. This advantage has been found to be larger in older adults in comparison to younger adults, suggesting that bilingualism provides advantages in cognitive control abilities. However, studies showing this effect have used a variety of tasks (Simon Task, Stroop task, Flanker Task), each measuring different subcomponents of attention and raising mixed results. At the same time, attention is not a unitary function but comprises of subcomponents which can be distinctively addressed within the Attention Network Test (ANT; Fan et al., 2005, 2009). The purpose of this work was to examine the neurofunctional correlates of the subcomponents of attention in healthy young and elderly bilinguals taking into account the L2 age of acquisition, language usage, and proficiency. Participants performed an fMRI version of the ANT task, and speed, accuracy, and BOLD data were collected. As expected, results show slower overall response times with increasing age. The ability to take advantage of the warning cues also decreased with age, resulting in reduced alerting and orienting abilities in older adults. fMRI results showed an increase in neurofunctional activity in the frontal and parietal areas in elderly bilinguals when compared to young bilinguals. Furthermore, higher L2 proficiency correlated negatively with activation in frontal area, and that faster RTs correlated negatively with activation in frontal and parietal areas. Such a correlation, especially with L2 proficiency was not present in young bilinguals and provides evidence for a bilingual advantage in the alerting subcomponent of attention that characterizes elderly bilinguals’ performance. This study thus provides extra details about the bilingual advantage in the subcomponent of attention, in older bilinguals. Consequently, speaking more than one language impacts cognition and the brain later in life.

Keywords: bilingualism, Subcomponents of attention, Neuroimaging, Attention Network Task, Aging

Received: 05 Jul 2019; Accepted: 08 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Dash, Berroir, Joanette and Ansaldo. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Tanya Dash, Centre de Recherche de l'Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal (CRIUGM), Montréal, H3W 1W5, Quebec, Canada, tani.dash@gmail.com