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How age of acquisition influences brain architecture in bilinguals.

  • Author(s): Wei, Miao;
  • Joshi, Anand A;
  • Zhang, Mingxia;
  • Mei, Leilei;
  • Manis, Franklin R;
  • He, Qinghua;
  • Beattie, Rachel L;
  • Xue, Gui;
  • Shattuck, David W;
  • Leahy, Richard M;
  • Xue, Feng;
  • Houston, Suzanne M;
  • Chen, Chuansheng;
  • Dong, Qi;
  • Lu, Zhong-Lin
  • et al.

In the present study, we explored how Age of Acquisition (AoA) of L2 affected brain structures in bilingual individuals. Thirty-six native English speakers who were bilingual were scanned with high resolution MRI. After MRI signal intensity inhomogeneity correction, we applied both voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and surface-based morphometry (SBM) approaches to the data. VBM analysis was performed using FSL's standard VBM processing pipeline. For the SBM analysis, we utilized a semi-automated sulci delineation procedure, registered the brains to an atlas, and extracted measures of twenty four pre-selected regions of interest. We addressed three questions: (1) Which areas are more susceptible to differences in AoA? (2) How do AoA, proficiency and current level of exposure work together in predicting structural differences in the brain? And (3) What is the direction of the effect of AoA on regional volumetric and surface measures? Both VBM and SBM results suggested that earlier second language exposure was associated with larger volumes in the right parietal cortex. Consistently, SBM showed that the cortical area of the right superior parietal lobule increased as AoA decreased. In contrast, in the right pars orbitalis of the inferior frontal gyrus, AoA, proficiency, and current level of exposure are equally important in accounting for the structural differences. We interpret our results in terms of current theory and research on the effects of L2 learning on brain structures and functions.

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