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Journal Article

Left insula activation: A marker for language attainment in bilinguals


Soon CS, Lee,  HL
Research Group Cognitive Neuroimaging, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Chee, M., Soon CS, Lee, H., & Pallier, C. (2004). Left insula activation: A marker for language attainment in bilinguals. Proceedings of The National Academy of Science of the USA, 101(42), 15265-15270. doi:10.1073/pnas.0403703101.

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Several lines of evidence suggest the importance of phonological working memory (PWM) in language acquisition. We investigated the neural correlates of PWM in young adults who were under compelling social pressure to be bilingual. Equal bilinguals had high proficiency in English and Chinese as measured by a standardized examination, whereas unequal bilinguals were proficient in English but not Chinese. Both groups were matched on several measures of nonverbal intelligence and working memory. Inscanner behavioral results did not show between-group differences. Of the regions showing load-dependent increments in activation, the left insula showed greater activation in equal bilinguals. Unequal bilinguals showed greater task-related deactivation in the anterior medial frontal region and greater anterior cingulate activation. Although unequal bilinguals kept apace with equal bilinguals in the simple PWM task, the differential cortical activations suggest that more optimal engagement of PWM in the latter may correlate with better second-language attainment.