Led by New York University’s faculty of health, it found that exposure to bilingual environments is a significant factor in the development of attention and could cause lifelong cognitive benefits in children.
“We discovered that the real difference between monolingual and bilingual individuals later in life is not in the language itself, but rather, in the attention system used to focus on language,” Ellen Bialystok, lead author of the study, said.
“From the very earliest stage of development, the networks that are the basis for developing attention are forming differently in infants who are being raised in a bilingual environment.”
This is important because, according to the researchers, “attention is the basis for all cognition (thinking, knowing, and intelligence)”.
Previous research showed that bilingual children and adults outperformed monolinguals on some cognitive tasks that require them to switch responses or deal with conflict.
Following a series of regulated experiments involving eye movement, anticipation and learning, infants exposed to more than one language showed better attention control than their monolingual counterparts.
“What is so ground-breaking about these results is that they look at infants who are not bilingual yet and who are only hearing the bilingual environment. This is what’s having the impact on cognitive performance,” says Scott Adler, co-author of the study.