Alessandra McDowell/Christian Navarro-Torres (UC Riverside)
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Alessandra McDowell

Title: The Effects of Bilingualism on Memory and Brain Integrity Across the Adult Lifespan

Abstract: Memory is one of the first aspects of cognition to decline with increasing age (Hedden & Gabrieli, 2004). Oftentimes this stems from a broadening of attention that involves no longer being able to adequately filter relevant from distracting stimuli; thus, older adults tend to be worse than younger adults at discriminating the important pieces of information to remember (Weeks & Hasher, 2017). However, it is possible that inhibitory benefits associated with being bilingual might have exciting implications for memory performance, and possibly aid in the preservation of memory abilities among older adults. In the present study, I will examine memory performance of four groups of participants bilingual and monolingual younger and older adults on paradigms that require inhibiting access to previously learned material that has since become irrelevant, and focusing attention only on pertinent, task-relevant information (e.g., release from proactive interference and directed forgetting tasks). Additionally, I plan to collect structural MRI and DTI data to elucidate the association between bilingualism and brain structure in key regions and tracts associated with resistance to proactive interference performance. I hope to illuminate the potential advantages that being a lifelong bilingual might afford to memory processes requiring inhibition, and examine which characteristics of bilingualism (e.g., age of acquisition, proficiency, frequency of language use) might be the most significant predictors of both brain structure and behavioral ability. This talk is a brief presentation of the background literature, predictions, and proposed methods for my dissertation I welcome any feedback or suggestions you may have!

Christian Navarro-Torres

Title: Beyond simple replication: Examining the role of interactional context and immersion status in bilingual language production

Abstract: A major issue of contention in the field of bilingualism research centers on whether bilingual experience confers benefits to cognitive functioning. While there has been considerable evidence supporting the positive consequences of bilingualism across the lifespan, other research has raised concerns about the validity of previous claims, arguing that bilingual effects are observed inconsistently. An issue that may be at the source of this controversy is the complexity of characterizing bilingual experience. Ironically, even though bilingualism is about language experience, few of the past studies that have examined the consequences of bilingualism for cognition have used anything more than measures of self-reported language proficiency. In this study, three contexts of bilingualism are examined for bilinguals who speak the same languages (Spanish and English) and who are all highly proficient in both, but who differ in their context of language use and language immersion status. All bilinguals performed two language production tasks (i.e., category fluency and picture naming) in both languages and a nonlinguistic measure of cognitive control (AX-CPT). Results suggest that the context of language use rather than proficiency per se determines the way that bilinguals plan speech and engage cognitive control. The implications of these results for future research on bilingualism are discussed.