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Cereb Cortex. 2012 Sep;22(9):2076-86. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr287. Epub 2011 Oct 29.

Bilingualism tunes the anterior cingulate cortex for conflict monitoring.

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Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Milan, Italy.


Monitoring and controlling 2 language systems is fundamental to language use in bilinguals. Here, we reveal in a combined functional (event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging) and structural neuroimaging (voxel-based morphometry) study that dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a structure tightly bound to domain-general executive control functions, is a common locus for language control and resolving nonverbal conflict. We also show an experience-dependent effect in the same region: Bilinguals use this structure more efficiently than monolinguals to monitor nonlinguistic cognitive conflicts. They adapted better to conflicting situations showing less ACC activity while outperforming monolinguals. Importantly, for bilinguals, brain activity in the ACC, as well as behavioral measures, also correlated positively with local gray matter volume. These results suggest that early learning and lifelong practice of 2 languages exert a strong impact upon human neocortical development. The bilingual brain adapts better to resolve cognitive conflicts in domain-general cognitive tasks.

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