“A distinct language-learning benefit for people who grow up bilingual”

23 Oct

An interesting piece in Quartz:

The study found that the bilingual brain seems less taxed by linguistic acquisition than the monolingual brain. The research team, led by neuroscientist Michael Ullman of Georgetown University, discovered bilinguals were quicker to process a new language naturally at low levels of proficiency. They also seemed to need to pay less attention than monolinguals when using a new tongue at higher levels of proficiency.

Here is the abstract from the paper:

It has been suggested that bilinguals learn additional languages ‘better’ than monolinguals. However, evidence is sparse, particularly for grammar. We examined behavioral and neural correlates of learning an additional (artificial) language in early Mandarin–English bilinguals, compared to English monolinguals. Following grammar instruction, participants practiced comprehension and production, and judged grammaticality at low and high proficiency while event-related potentials (ERPs) were acquired. Bilinguals and monolinguals did not differ on behavioral measures, but showed distinct ERP patterns. At low proficiency only bilinguals showed a P600, a common ERP correlate of syntactic processing in native speakers of languages. At high proficiency both groups showed P600s, though the monolinguals also evidenced an anterior positivity not typically found in native speakers of languages during syntactic processing. These findings suggest that, even without bilingual/monolingual behavioral differences, bilinguals show ERP patterns for an additional language that are more similar to those of native speakers of languages.

Philip K. Dick dreams of bookstores

20 Oct

A few weeks ago, I wrote about books appearing in dreams. Recently, I have been reading Philip K. Dick’s novel Valis and last night I came across this:

“The Empire never ended,” Fat quoted to himself. That one sentence appeared over and over again in his exegesis; it had become his tag line. Originally the sentence had been revealed to him in a great dream. In the dream he again was a child, searching dusty used-book stores for rare old science fiction magazines, in particular Astoundings. In the dream he had looked through countless tattered issues, stacks upon stacks, for the priceless serial entitled “The Empire Never Ended.” If he could find it and read it he would know everything; that had been the burden of the dream.

What is striking to me is that I have had similar dreams of looking in bookstores for some important book that would clear up the great mysteries of life.

My guess is that “The Empire Never Ends” is a reference to Asimov’s Foundation series, which first appeared as a serial in Astounding Stories.

New evidence on transcranial electric stimulation of the brain

18 Oct

Last year György Buzsáki performed a public experiment showing that electricity passed through electrodes placed on the scalp of a cadaver could not be detected in the brain. This raised serious concerns about the many claims made on behalf of transcranial electrical stimulation of the brain.

Now, in a forth coming paper, published in the journal Brain Stimulation, evidence is presented from an in vivo study (research on a living subject) that detectable changes in brain electrical activity does occur during transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS).

Stay tuned!

How much TV do Americans watch?

16 Oct

I was flipping though a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s book: A New Earth when I came upon this claim:

The average American by the time his is sixty years old, will have spend fifteen years staring a the TV screen.

Really! Fifteen years? Since 15 is 25% of 60 you would have to watch six hours of television every day since birth to reach that number!

I was skeptical that this could be the case, but when I looked into this, Tolle’s figure appears to be only a slight exaggeration. I found this New York Time article that reports “on average, American adults are watching five hours and four minutes of television per day.”

Study advice from the Association for Psychological Science

13 Oct

You can find it here. The main suggestions are:

Study for a little bit every day. One of the most robust findings in all of cognitive psychology research is the spacing effect, which shows that learning material over several study sessions that are spaced out over time is more effective than cramming everything into one session.
Read, Recite and Review. Take 5 minutes to write a summary of a chapter’s big ideas after finishing the reading (aka practicing retrieval), rather than summarizing as you go. Then, check what you got right and what you missed before moving on.
Take notes by hand rather than on a laptop. You’ll be less prone to distract yourself (or your classmates) with various apps and website and the act of writing by hand may even help you to remember more.
Test yourself on key ideas. Using flash cards, practice quizzes, and friends to test yourself will help you practice retrieving information from memory and is one of the best ways to learn something for the long term.


Ta-Nehisi Coates on learning French

11 Oct

I like to highlight individual learning projects on this blog. Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a number of times about his efforts to learn French:

I am emphasizing how I “feel” because, when studying, it is as important as any objective reality. Hopelessness feeds the fatigue that leads the student to quit. It is not the study of language that is hard, so much as the “feeling” that your present level is who you are and who you will always be. I remember returning from France at the end of the summer of 2013, and being convinced that I had some kind of brain injury which prevented me from hearing French vowel sounds. But the real enemy was not any injury so much as the “feeling” of despair. That is why I ignore all the research about children and their language advantage. I don’t want to hear it. I just don’t care. As Carolyn Forché would say—”I’m going to have it.”

Temperaments and paw preference in cats

9 Oct

Bio-behavioral asymmetries are not unique to humans. A recent paper reports that paw preference in cats is linked to their temperament:

Research points to a relationship between lateralization and emotional functioning in humans and many species of animal. The present study explored the association between paw preferences and emotional functioning, specifically temperament, in a species thus far overlooked in this area, the domestic cat. Thirty left-pawed, 30 right-pawed, and 30 ambilateral pet cats were recruited following an assessment of their paw preferences using a food-reaching challenge. The animals’ temperament was subsequently assessed using the Feline Temperament Profile (FTP). Cats’ owners also completed a purpose-designed cat temperament (CAT) scale. Analysis revealed a significant relationship between lateral bias and FTP and CAT scale scores. Ambilateral cats had lower positive (FTP+) scores, and were perceived as less affectionate, obedient, friendly, and more aggressive, than left or right-pawed animals. Left and right pawed cats differed significantly on 1 trait on the CAT scale, namely playfulness. The strength of the cats’ paw preferences was related to the animals’ FTP and CAT scores. Cats with a greater strength of paw preference had higher FTP+ scores than those with a weaker strength of paw preference. Animals with stronger paw preferences were perceived as more confident, affectionate, active, and friendly than those with weaker paw preferences. Results suggest that motor laterality in the cat is strongly related to temperament and that the presence or absence of lateralization has greater implications for the expression of emotion in this species than the direction of the lateralized bias. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

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