Thursday, May 5, 2022

Online Classes and their Reduction in Competent Learning

     The Corona virus has taken a massive toll on what we knew was our world. As a student in college myself, one of the outstanding reasons for this was the switch to online learning. Heather Stringer, of the American Psychological Association, discusses the negatives of Zoom learning in her article “Zoom school’s mental health toll on kids”. 

    Stringer emphasizes how children are no longer motivated to do work, they lose many “key ingredients for inspiration” in this online world. Lack of one to one help from teachers, hands on learning and group work are all such factors. Stringer also addresses how a lack of confidence can relate to worse performance. In the article, Stringer includes insight from Eric Anderman, PhD. Anderman expresses that he thinks a lack of individual feedback from educators create a lack of confidence and therefore competence in children’s school work. Anderman says that a key component of giving children this confidence is when teachers break skills down to simpler steps, without this Anderman says kids are more likely to give up on their work. 

    Anderman’s aforementioned idea that kids lose confidence and therefore competence in their work when they lack a breakdown of ideas from educators is addressed by Elizabeth Wakefield et al. in her research study entitled “Learning math by hand: The neural effects of gesture-based instruction in 8-year-old children”. Wakefield et al. ran a study to understand how the effects of learning with/without gestures present themselves neurally in the brain. In the study the researchers determined that children who used gestures in learning a math problem had more neural activation than those that did not use gestures. Wakefield at al wrote “learning through gesture leads to a lasting and embedded neural trace of motor system involvement”. This study shows us that having this addition to learning will create better results. 

    With the scientific evidence from Wakefield’s experiment backing up Stringer’s article we can conclude that Zoom learning can be detrimental to some student’s learning. Luckily, many schools have returned to in person learning, however with this knowledge it would be important to think of better ways to address teaching if another pandemic were to occur. Educators have done their best with the circumstances they were presented at the start of the pandemic, and in the future it will be important to incorporate learning practices that are backed by studies such as Wakefiled et al’s. 

Stringer, H. (2020, October 13). Zoom school’s mental health toll on kids.       

Wakefield, E. M., Congdon, E. L., Novack, M. A., Goldin-Meadow, S., & James, K. H. (2019). Learning math by hand: The neural effects of gesture-based instruction in 8-year-old children. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 81(7), 2343–2353. 

The Risk of Advancing Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to innervate nerve cells in the brain. TMS can be very useful in numerous clinical settings, such as depression, stroke, Parkinson’s, etc. Pavon and Harvey (20 22) evaluated how noninvasive transcranial magnetic brain stimulation can treat stroke patients. TMS can help with pain, potentially help with memory (long term potentiation and cortical excitability), and revive any injured synapses (Pavon and Harvey 2022).  They ultimately found that TMS can be very helpful to treat stroke, but there is limited knowledge of the parameters needed to actually be an effective, global treatment. 

Transcranial magnetic brain stimulation’s growing popularity in the field of neuroscience has raised questions with how versatile the method can be. With the growth of technology, it should come as a surprise that some have considered using TMS to read and control minds. In “Mind Reading and Mind Control Technologies Are Coming,” author R. Douglas Fields aims to evaluate the ethical complications of TMS for recreational use. A neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon is trying to evaluate how to use TMS to understand what someone is thinking (Fields 2020). They believe the benefits outweigh the potential harms, as with this technological advancement, they would be able to detect how someone responds to things such as death, and they would be able to predict if someone has thoughts of suicide (Fields 2020). However, I believe that this causes so many issues, such as privacy, control, autonomy, and many more. 

This problem of security and control also reminds me of Elon Musk’s brain chip, neuralink. Neuralink is a brain chip aiming to enhance the brain’s cognitive capabilities, with a focus on medical treatment. Neuralink, like TMS, could be beneficial for patients with medical ailments such as Parkinson’s, but raises the same risks, as both devices could potentially be used to read someone’s thoughts. Thus, both devices raise so many questions. Who controls how the device is used? Who has knowledge of what the other person is thinking? What gives them the authority to handle such a device? Thoughts are the most private thing we have, but with technology today, this privacy may no longer be so sacred to us anymore. 


Fields, R. D. (2020, March 10). Mind reading and mind control technologies are coming. 

Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from


Hernandez-Pavon;, J. C., & Harvey, R. L. (2022, February 21)). Noninvasive transcranial magnetic brain 

stimulation in stroke. Physical medicine and rehabilitation clinics of North America. 

Retrieved May 4, 2022, from

Kay, G. (2022, April 25). Elon Musk says Neuralink's brain chip will be 'similar in complexity 

level to Smart watches'. Business Insider. Retrieved May 5, 2022, from

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Importance of Encouraging Bilingualism


Julia Laghi

Professor Morrison

Neuro 300


The Importance of Encouraging Bilingualism

In “Early Bilingualism, Language Attainment, and Brain Development” Berken et al. review several different articles pertaining to bilingualism. Emphasizing a comparison between those that were exposed in the early stages of their neurodevelopment to a second and those who developed their second language after those formative years. One particular article illustrated that after the 12-month mark, children will have already developed and set the accents of their native language(s). Generally, throughout the review article Berken et al. make it abundantly clear that the earlier a language is learned/exposed to the quicker the individual will become what may be considered ‘fluent’ in that language. In terms of language learning, the earlier the better seems to be the general consensus in terms of fluency and vocabulary. This is due to the extreme permeability of a child’s mind that comes with the developing brain. Sentence patterns, grammar, and phonetics especially being easily absorbed and processed. And as the articles referenced in this review have shown, once the individual has grown this window of extreme permeability has closed. Thus, those out of this young age range will find it much more challenging to gain native like fluency and accents.

And while we understand that bilingualism is easier to achieve during the early years of development, why should we continue to encourage others to achieve bilingualism? Besides the benefits of communicating further and understanding other cultures around us better, there have also been signs that bilingualism improves cognitive health. For example, in an article published on CNN by Martha Shade she speaks on research being done at University of Toranto. Stating, “bilinguals are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease four to five years later than their monolingual counterparts”. The mental stimulation that bilingualism provides is a form of natural protecting for those who are predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease.

However, the benefits of bilingualism encompass more than just the mental exercise of switching between and learning two languages. But it also entails some secondary benefits. In the ability to master another language you are effectively expanding the pool of potential social connections. These opportunities also assist in strengthening the mind, as social connects are also a part of delaying Alzheimer’s (Shade). Moreover, the more international connections both researchers and the public build, the more collaboration towards finding cures for pathologies, like Alzheimer’s, will occur. Thus, bilingualism has a web of benefits stretching from an individual neuron towards thousand of collaborating people working to protect brain health.


Works Cited

Berken, Jonathan A., et al. “Early Bilingualism, Language Attainment, and Brain Development.” Neuropsychologia, vol. 98, 2017, pp. 220–227.,

Shade, Martha. “Bilingualism Is Good Medicine for the Brain.” CNN, Cable News Network, 24 Oct. 2020,

Developmental Differences’ Effect on Neuroplasticity

 It is very interesting to observe how things learned in one's childhood cause differences in the baseline of their unique brain development. This baseline is the foundation for new learning and neuroplastic changes; it could determine a person's proficiency in a certain area. Understanding differences in neuroplastic development during the age of acquisition may help with understanding learning.   

Early bilingualism, language attainment, and brain development studies the neuroplastic changes that occur in the brain due to language. More specifically, the brain development caused by learning a second language in early childhood, the ideal period for language acquisition (simultaneous bilinguals), compared to learning a second language after that window has closed (sequential bilinguals). Although changes in neuroplasticity were observed with sequential bilinguals, they were overall different from those that formed in early childhood and are built off foundations set in early childhood (Berken et al. 2017). Native speakers exhibited a similar activation when speaking both English and French in the bilateral motor cortex, auditory cortices, basal ganglia, and the cerebellum (Berken et al., 2017). Significantly more areas (the left premotor cortex, left inferior frontal gyrus, left fusiform gyrus, bilateral pre-supplementary motor areas, right lateral inferior occipital cortex, and cerebellar vermis) were activated for English monolinguals reading out-loud in French, while both bilingual groups had similar areas of activation when asked to read in either language (Berken et al., 2017).  

Since the age of acquisition plays a critical role for learning a language, it may be the case for many other types of development as well. Parental Language and Learning Directed to the Young Child found that the home learning environment more broadly, shape young children’s brains and, ultimately, their developmental and academic outcomes (Kapengut et al., 2020).  


Berken, J. A., Gracco, V. LI ., & Klein, D. (2017). Early bilingualism, language attainment, and brain development. Neuropsychologia, 98, 220–227. 


Kapengut, Dina, and Kimberly G. Noble. “Parental Language and Learning Directed to the Young Child.” The Future of Children, vol. 30, no. 2, Princeton University, 2020, pp. 71–92. 

Can Bilingualism Mechanisms Prevent the Onset of Dementia?

Early Bilingualism May Contribute to Adult Neurogenesis in the Brain and Lead to Better Cognitive Reserves Compared to Monolingual People

    Disease-related cognitive decline caused by Alzheimer's Disease (AD) and other types of Dementia is becoming increasingly prevalent in the aging population as overall lifespans increase, and more people are living longer. It is becoming increasingly clear that meaningful cognitive stimulation is critical in preventing the onset neurodegenerative diseases such as AD. Researchers consistently find that elderly patients actively participating in activities to stimulate their brain, while maintaining and strengthening neuronal connections. Due to the fact that more neural processing is required for bilingual people compared to monolingual people, they often exhibit a greater cognitive reserve and delayed onset of AD. While there is a general consensus among the scientific community that the bilingual brain is functionally different than age-matched monolingual brains, the exact mechanisms underlying early bilingualism are often debated. 

    In the 2016 review article, "Early bilingualism, language attainment, and brain development", Berken et al. compile multiple studies to explore how language development can contribute to lifelong neuroplasticity. By analyzing data from a variety of neuroimaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET), structural MRIs, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers determine that the age of acquisition of a second language is strongly associated with brain structure, organization, and function (Berken, 2016). A specific study focuses on fMRI information from simultaneous bilinguals and sequential bilinguals. Simultaneous bilinguals, or individuals who were exposed to language 1 (L1) and language 2 (L2) at the same time exhibit greater neuronal connectivity between the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and other neuronal regions associated with language attainment. The data collected from these studies indicates that simultaneously exposing an infant to L2 and L1 results in higher levels of neuroplasticity and more effective neural connectivity. Alternatively, the neuroplasticity of sequential bilinguals is limited, as a second language is introduced after neuronal pathways have already been established for L1.

    A similar review article, "Bilingualism for Dementia: Neurological Mechanisms Associated with Function and Structural Changes in the Brain," Kim et al. (2019) explore the potential mechanisms underlying bilingualism and how they promote neuroplasticity. Due to the complex nature of learning two languages, the hippocampal-dependent process bilingualism promotes the development of new neuronal connections while simultaneously stimulating adult neurogenesis (Kim, 2019). On a molecular level, bilingual adults exhibit increased levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). The growth factor VEGF plays a critical role in adult neurogenesis by enhancing hippocampal-dependent memories which in turn reduces the amount of memory loss the individual experiences. Furthermore, researchers determine that elderly bilingual people improves overall functional connectivity of the brain by increasing gray matter (GM) density in the brain. GM density in the hippocampus specifically is decreased by age-related cognitive decline and AD, however, bilingual individuals exhibit higher levels of preserved GM in the brain.


Berken, J. A., Gracco, V. LI ., & Klein, D. (2016). Early bilingualism, language attainment, and

brain development. Neuropsychologia, 98, 220–227.

 Kim, S. (2019). Bilingualism for Dementia: Neurological Mechanisms Associated with Function and Structural Changes in the Brain. Frontiers in Neuroscience.







Differences in Early and Late Bilinguals

    In the 2017 metanalysis, Early Bilingualism, Language Attainment, and Brain Development, Berken et al., review existing and recent literature on the connections between age of language acquisition and brain organization. The authors use bilingualism as a model to further examine the neural intricacies between ‘early bilinguals’ and ‘late bilinguals.’ The authors cite several studies, summarizing the importance of the phonological optimal period in development and sensory experiences during utero and infancy. Early bilinguals are defined as people who learn two languages simultaneously in infancy and early childhood. Because this learning happens while language, speech, and motor areas of the brain are still being developed, early bilinguals typically present stronger, more distributed connectivity between the language network, larger size of these language areas, and neural activation that is more efficient. This also tends to extend the optimal period, which feeds back into the benefits of early language acquisition For late bilinguals, where language is learned after the brain has established its language, speech, and motor circuits – connectivity is less interconnected across the cortex. Activation patters are also more pronounced, which in this context translates to evidence of more metabolically expensive and compensatory efforts on the brain’s part. In either form of language acquisition, the brain’s configuring or reconfiguring as a response to its environment is referred to as its plasticity. 

    What does this mean for the adult actively trying to learn a new language? It is valuable to know that your brain can still adapt itself! Learning a new language later in life will be more difficult, but most of the work our brain does to compensate for this different mode of learning is automatic. In fact, a 2018 news article from the BBC - British Broadcasting Corporation, 
What is the best age to learn a language?, argues that learning new languages later in life might not be worse, just different. Author Sophie Hardach consults Antonella Sorace, PhD., a developmental linguistics professor at the University of Edinburgh and director of Bilingualism Matters, and Danijela Trenkic, PhD., a professor of psycholinguistics at the University of York, on the possible benefits of learning a language as an adult. Sorace poses the difference in implicit and explicit learning. Adults are much better at explicit learning than young children – improved attention and memory functions. Trenkic brings attention to different social contexts that children and adults navigate. She adds that the social and emotional motivations for learning a new language play big rule in how quickly or effectively a language is learned. 

    All in all, Berken et al. and other researchers in the field, are closer to understanding the neurobiological components and innerworkings of neuroplasticity, especially as it pertains to language learning. Early exposure to multiple languages proves beneficial for neurodevelopment, as it is a robust sensory experience. Additionally, learning languages later in life is also made possible by the plastic nature of our brains. Understanding how these learning modes manifest differently in the brain is an important contribution to the literature.  

Berken, Jonathan A., et al. “Early Bilingualism, Language Attainment, and Brain Development.” Neuropsychologia, vol. 98, Apr. 2017, pp. 220-227, 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.08.031.