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Cognitive Benefits of Learning Additional Languages in Old Adulthood? Insights from an Intensive Longitudinal Intervention Study


Kliesch, Maria; Pfenninger, Simone; Wieling, Martijn; Stark, Elisabeth; Meyer, Martin (2022). Cognitive Benefits of Learning Additional Languages in Old Adulthood? Insights from an Intensive Longitudinal Intervention Study. Applied Linguistics, 43(4):653-676.

Abstract

Second language (L2) learning has been promoted as a promising intervention to stave off age-related cognitive decline. While previous studies based on mean trends showed inconclusive results, this study is the first to investigate nonlinear cognitive trajectories across a 30-week training period. German-speaking older participants (aged 64–75 years) enrolled for a Spanish course, strategy game training (active control) or movie screenings (passive control). We assessed cognitive performance in working memory, alertness, divided attention, and verbal fluency on a weekly basis. Trajectories were modeled using Generalized Additive Mixed Models to account for temporally limited transfer effects and intra-individual variation in cognitive performance. Our results provide no evidence of cognitive improvement differing between the Spanish and either of the control groups during any phase of the training period. We did, however, observe an effect of baseline cognition, such that individuals with low cognitive baselines increased their performance more in the L2 group than comparable individuals in the control groups. We discuss these findings against the backdrop of the cognitive training literature and Complex Dynamic Systems Theory.

Abstract

Second language (L2) learning has been promoted as a promising intervention to stave off age-related cognitive decline. While previous studies based on mean trends showed inconclusive results, this study is the first to investigate nonlinear cognitive trajectories across a 30-week training period. German-speaking older participants (aged 64–75 years) enrolled for a Spanish course, strategy game training (active control) or movie screenings (passive control). We assessed cognitive performance in working memory, alertness, divided attention, and verbal fluency on a weekly basis. Trajectories were modeled using Generalized Additive Mixed Models to account for temporally limited transfer effects and intra-individual variation in cognitive performance. Our results provide no evidence of cognitive improvement differing between the Spanish and either of the control groups during any phase of the training period. We did, however, observe an effect of baseline cognition, such that individuals with low cognitive baselines increased their performance more in the L2 group than comparable individuals in the control groups. We discuss these findings against the backdrop of the cognitive training literature and Complex Dynamic Systems Theory.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Romance Studies
06 Faculty of Arts > Zurich Center for Linguistics
Special Collections > Centers of Competence > Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language Evolution
08 Research Priority Programs > Dynamics of Healthy Aging
06 Faculty of Arts > Linguistic Research Infrastructure (LiRI)
Dewey Decimal Classification:800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism
470 Latin & Italic languages
410 Linguistics
440 French & related languages
460 Spanish & Portuguese languages
450 Italian, Romanian & related languages
Language:English
Date:20 September 2022
Deposited On:11 Jan 2022 12:44
Last Modified:26 Mar 2024 02:37
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:0142-6001
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amab077