I have always known the importance of language. My parents are trilingual, and I was raised bilingual. In college, I major in psychology and minor in a language as well, in hopes of one day being trilingual like my parents are. As a psychology student, I’ve been taught that the brain is a sponge, and during childhood we pick up on things faster, language included. However, the age old question is: does being bilingual make you more intelligent? Bilingualism creates changes in the brain that researchers can actually see. When looking at fMRIs (machines that track brain activity), there was more brain activity in both hemispheres of the pre-frontal cortex in bilingual people. Some researchers hypothesize that this is because in order to answer in one language, the other needs to be repressed. Because of this, bilingual children are believed to be better at completing mental tasks and puzzles.
Hypothesis: Bilingual students perform better on mental tasks that involve them having to switch attention from one thing to another.
Null Hypothesis: Being bilingual has no effect on a student’s performance on mental tasks.
Study: In 2004, psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee asked monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares on a computer screen into two separate digital bins, one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle. First, they were asked to sort by color (blue circles to blue square bin and red squares to red circle bin). This task was easy for both groups. Then, they were asked to sort by shape (blue circles to red circles bin and red squares to blue square bin). The bilinguals were significantly better at this task.
Conclusion: While intelligence is so varied and cannot be exactly proven by these skills based tasks, it is unfair to say whether or not being bilingual can make a person more intelligent. However, there is significant research on this particular hypothesis that makes it quite clear that bilingual children are certainly quicker at performing these mental tasks, when they involve switching attention. Therefore, the hypothesis is proven.
Switching attention is a large part of intelligence and daily life, including driving. Can we assume that this means bilingual students are better drivers as well? Again, nothing that broad can necessarily be proven, as everything involving this kind of intelligence is mostly situational. This popular study does suffer from the Texas sharp shooter fallacy because it ignores the data against bilingual children and what they are considerably worse at than monolingual children. Or perhaps there is no research on this part of the study because maybe there are only benefits to being bilingual.