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Journal Article

Brain structure is related to speech perception abilities in bilinguals


Díaz,  Begoña
Brain and Cognition Unit, University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain;
Max Planck Research Group Neural Mechanisms of Human Communication, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Burgaleta, M., Baus, C., Díaz, B., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2014). Brain structure is related to speech perception abilities in bilinguals. Brain Structure & Function, 219(4), 1405-1416. doi:10.1007/s00429-013-0576-9.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0014-5D47-A
Morphology of the human brain predicts the speed at which individuals learn to distinguish novel foreign speech sounds after laboratory training. However, little is known about the neuroanatomical basis of individual differences in speech perception when a second language (L2) has been learned in natural environments for extended periods of time. In the present study, two samples of highly proficient bilinguals were selected according to their ability to distinguish between very similar L2 sounds, either isolated (prelexical) or within words (lexical). Structural MRI was acquired and processed to estimate vertex-wise indices of cortical thickness (CT) and surface area (CSA), and the association between cortical morphology and behavioral performance was inspected. Results revealed that performance in the lexical task was negatively associated with the thickness of the left temporal cortex and angular gyrus, as well as with the surface area of the left precuneus. Our findings, consistently with previous fMRI studies, demonstrate that morphology of the reported areas is relevant for word recognition based on phonological information. Further, we discuss the possibility that increased CT and CSA in sound-to-meaning mapping regions, found for poor non-native speech sounds perceivers, would have plastically arisen after extended periods of increased functional activity during L2 exposure.