A network-level analysis of cognitive flexibility reveals a differential influence of the anterior cingulate cortex in bilinguals versus monolinguals

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Mounting evidence suggests that bilingual development may change the brain in a way that gives rise to differences in non-linguistic cognitive functioning; however, only a limited number of studies have investigated the mechanism by which bilingualism shapes the brain. The current study used a network-level analysis to investigate differences in the mechanisms by which bilinguals and monolinguals flexibly adapt their neural networks in the face of novel task demands. Three competing hypotheses concerning differences in network-level adaptation were examined using Dynamic Causal Modeling of data from 15 bilinguals and 14 monolinguals who performed a Rapid Instructed Task Learning paradigm. The results demonstrated that the best-fitting model for the data from both groups specified that novel task execution is accomplished through a modulation of the influence of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) on the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and on the striatum. Further examination of the best-fitting model revealed that ACC activity increased DLPFC and striatal activity in bilinguals but decreased activity in these regions in monolinguals. Interestingly, an increased positive connection between the ACC and striatum was associated with decreased accuracy across groups. Taken together, the results suggest that regardless of language experience, the ACC plays a critical role in cognitive flexibility, but the exact influence of the ACC on other primary control regions seems to be dependent on language experience. When paired with the behavioral results, these results suggest that bilinguals and monolinguals may employ different neurocognitive mechanisms for conflict monitoring to flexibly adapt to novel situations.

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