University of Haifa researchers have found that bilingualism significantly
contributes to the cognitive ability to create a variety of ideas and to skip
“It may be that the lifelong experience of people who speak
more than one language, which constantly requires shifting among tongues,
explains the advantage of bilinguals in their cognitive flexibility,” says Prof.
Raphiq Ibrahim of the Safra Brain Research Center, who headed the
Being equally fluent in two languages contributes significantly
to cognitive flexibility expressed in the ability to create a variety of ideas
and ways of coping with problems and the ability to skip quickly among sets of
His findings were recently published in the journal
Previous research in the field has only dealt with
In Ibrahim’s study, which he conducted with Prof. David Share,
Reut Shoshani and Dr. Anat Prior, the researchers wanted to examine
whether adults who are fluent in two languages exhibit spontaneous flexible
They also wanted to test reactive cognitive
flexibility, the ability to make changes in thinking and focus each time on
another subject according to the changing situation.
participated in the study. The first was bilingual, fluent in two languages and
speaking at the same level, consisting of Israelis who grew up in homes with
Englishspeaking parents and made aliya at a young age. The second group
consisted of participants who were born in Israel and for who Hebrew is their
dominant language, and who have a basic to intermediate level of English learned
in school. The participants underwent a series of tests to examine the two kinds
of cognitive flexibility.
Ibrahim and colleagues found that equally
bilingual people showed higher levels in both types of cognitive flexibility,
and the differences in results of tests of spontaneous flexibility were greater.
Using statistical measures, the researchers even examined the influence of being
bilingual and found that this was more closely connected to differences in
spontaneous flexibility – this strengthened even more the explanation that this
skill improves performance.
“Our research sheds more light on the
importance and benefits of being bilingual – especially spontaneous cognitive
flexibility, which is believed to be a higher level of cognitive activity. It
has become clear that a daily bilingual lifestyle contributes significantly to
improving this ability,” Ibrahim concluded.
This study is part of a Safra
Center series that integrates direct measurement of cognitive and brain activity
and the connection between bilingual experience to the formation of cognitive
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