Bilingual children have better 'working memory' than monolingual children, study shows

February 20, 2013, University of Granada
(a). A more simple task: children were shown a series of stimuli (frogs) that simultaneously appeared in different points of the screen. When the frogs disappeared, children had to remember the places where they had appeared. (b) The most complex task: stimuli were separetely displayed and children had to remember the place and order on which they had appeared, which is highly demanding in cognitive terms. Credit: University of Granada

A study conducted at the University of Granada and the University of York in Toronto, Canada, has revealed that bilingual children develop a better working memory –which holds, processes and updates information over short periods of time– than monolingual children. The working memory plays a major role in the execution of a wide range of activities, such as mental calculation (since we have to remember numbers and operate with them) or reading comprehension (given that it requires associating the successive concepts in a text).

The objective of this study –which was published in the last issue of the – was examining how multilingualism influences the development of the "" and investigating the association between the working memory and the cognitive superiority of bilingual people found in previous studies.

Executive Functions

The working memory includes the structures and processes associated with the storage and processing of information over short periods of time. It is one of the components of the so-called "executive functions": a set of mechanisms involved in the planning and self-regulation of human behavior. Although the working memory is developed in the first years of life, it can be trained and improved with experience.

According to the principal investigator of this study, Julia Morales Castillo, of the Department of of the University of Granada, this study contributes to better understand cognitive development in bilingual and monolingual children. "Other studies have demonstrated that bilingual children are better at planning and (i.e. tasks involving ignoring irrelevant information or requiring a dominant response). But, to date, there was no evidence on the influence of bilingualism on the working memory.

The study sample included bilingual children between 5 and 7 years of age (a critical period in the development of the working memory). The researchers found that performed better than monolingual children in working memory tasks. Indeed, the more complex the tasks the better their performance. "The results of this study suggest that does not only improve the working memory in an isolated way, but they affect the global development of executive functions, especially when they have to interact with each other", Morales Castillo states.

Music Education

According to the researcher, the results of this study "contribute to the growing number of studies on the role of experience in cognitive development". Other studies have demonstrated that children performing activities such as music education have better cognitive capacities. "However, we cannot determine to what extent children perform these activities due to other factors such as talent or personal interest".

"However, the children in our study were bilingual because of family reasons rather than because of an interest in languages.

Explore further: Study examines role of bilingualism in children's development

Related Stories

Study examines role of bilingualism in children's development

February 8, 2012
A new study on children who are raised bilingual examined the effects on children's development of growing up speaking two languages. The study found that different factors were responsible for the language- and non-language-related ...

Bilingualism doesn?t hamper language abilities of children with autism: research

October 6, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Bilingual children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) acquire vocabularies just as rich as monolingual children with ASD, according to research by a bilingualism expert at the University of British Columbia.

Speaking two languages also benefits low-income children

August 27, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Living in poverty is often accompanied by conditions that can negatively influence cognitive development. Is it possible that being bilingual might counteract these effects? Although previous research has ...

Study shows cognitive benefit of lifelong bilingualism

January 8, 2013
Seniors who have spoken two languages since childhood are faster than single-language speakers at switching from one task to another, according to a study published in the January 9 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. ...

Recommended for you

Cannabis—it matters how young you start

May 18, 2018
Canadian researchers find that boys who start smoking pot before 15 are much more likely to have a drug problem at 28 than those who start at 15 or after.

Long legs turn women's heads, arm length immaterial: study

May 16, 2018
Labouring over the age-old question "What do women look for in men?", scientists added an item to the list Wednesday: legs slightly longer than average, with a good shin-to-thigh ratio.

Elevated homocysteine identified as metabolic risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases

May 16, 2018
The amino acid homocysteine occurs naturally in the human body, generated as a byproduct of methionine metabolism. Genetic diseases or an imbalanced diet, with too much red meat or deficiencies in B vitamins and folic acid, ...

Researchers find clues to treating psychoses in mental health patients

May 16, 2018
Psychotic disorders often are severe and involve extreme symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations in which people lose their sense of reality. Researchers at the University of Missouri recently found evidence that boosting ...

Most deprived are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia

May 16, 2018
Older adults in England with fewer financial resources are more likely to develop dementia, according to new UCL research.

People make different moral choices in imagined versus real-life situations

May 16, 2018
Researchers often use hypothetical scenarios to understand how people grapple with moral quandaries, but experimental results suggest that these scenarios may not always reflect real-life behavior. The findings, published ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.