Dr. Ellen Bialystok of York University and colleagues said the intriguing finding that the need to monitor two languages in order to select the appropriate one recruits brain regions that are critical for general attention and cognitive control.
Using these cognitive control networks for bilingual language processing may reconfigure and strengthen them, perhaps enhancing "mental flexibility," the ability to adapt to ongoing changes and process information efficiently.
"Previous studies have established that bilingualism has a beneficial effect on cognitive development in children," Bialystok said in a statement. "In our paper, we reviewed recent studies using both behavioral and neuroimaging methods to examine the effects of bilingualism on cognition in adults."
The bilingualism improves "cognitive reserve," the protective effect that stimulating mental or physical activity has on brain functioning, but cognitive reserve might also postpone the onset of symptoms in those suffering from dementia, Bialystok said.
The study was published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.