Subcortical encoding of sound is enhanced in bilinguals and relates to executive function advantages

Jennifer Krizman, Viorica Marian, Anthony Shook, Erika Skoe, Nina Kraus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations

Abstract

Bilingualism profoundly affects the brain, yielding functional and structural changes in cortical regions dedicated to language processing and executive function [Crinion J, et al. (2006) Science 312:1537-1540; Kim KHS, et al. (1997) Nature 388:171-174]. Comparatively, musical training, another type of sensory enrichment, translates to expertise in cognitive processing and refined biological processing of sound in both cortical and subcortical structures. Therefore, we asked whether bilingualism can also promote experience-dependent plasticity in subcortical auditory processing. We found that adolescent bilinguals, listening to the speech syllable [da], encoded the stimulus more robustly than age-matched monolinguals. Specifically, bilinguals showed enhanced encoding of the fundamental frequency, a feature known to underlie pitch perception and grouping of auditory objects. This enhancement was associated with executive function advantages. Thus, through experience-related tuning of attention, the bilingual auditory system becomes highly efficient in automatically processing sound. This study provides biological evidence for system-wide neural plasticity in auditory experts that facilitates a tight coupling of sensory and cognitive functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7877-7881
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume109
Issue number20
DOIs
StatePublished - May 15 2012

Keywords

  • Brainstem
  • Electrophysiology
  • Multilingualism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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