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Article

There has been an enormous expansion during the early 21st century in psychological research on topics relating to bilingualism, paralleling developments in other fields of psychology that investigate the interface between experience and the mind. These issues reflect the view that brains and minds remain plastic and can be modified by experience throughout life. In the case of bilingualism, a central question is whether bilingual experience modifies cognitive systems in general, and more specifically, if it improves cognitive ability and executive functioning. The research has produced contradictory results, in some cases supporting a beneficial effect on cognition and in some cases indicating no effect. Crucially, there is essentially no research that indicates that bilingualism is associated with poorer cognitive outcomes than found for those who are monolingual. Studies showing a positive role for bilingualism on cognitive outcomes have been reported across the life span. Early research with children in the first half of the 20th century concluded that bilingualism was detrimental to children’s intelligence, a claim that has been thoroughly refuted and replaced with evidence identifying specific cognitive processes that are more advanced in bilingual than in monolingual children. A few studies have even reported better attentional control, the foundation of executive functioning, for infants in the first year of life being raised in bilingual homes than for those in monolingual environments. Young adults frequently show no behavioral differences between language groups when performing executive function tasks, but neuroimaging (electrophysiology or brain imaging) consistently indicates that monolinguals and bilinguals use different brain regions and different degrees of effort to perform these tasks. The clearest language group differences, however, occur in older age where evidence for cognitive reserve from bilingualism is found most clearly in the postponement of symptoms of dementia. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze the factors that mediate these effects, notably, the nature of bilingual experience and the details of the cognitive task being used. The conclusion is that bilingualism is complex but there is evidence for a consistent and systematic impact on cognitive systems.

Article

Healthy aging is associated with changes in sensory, motor, cognitive, and emotional functions. Such changes depend on various factors. In particular, physical activity not only improves physical and motor but also cognitive and emotional functions. Observational (i.e., associations) and cross-sectional studies generally show a positive effect of regular physical exercise on cognition in older adults. Most longitudinal randomized controlled intervention studies also show positive effects, but the results are inconsistent due to large heterogeneity of methodological setups. Positive changes accompanying physical activity mainly impact executive functions, memory functions, and processing speed. Several factors influence the impact of physical activity on cognition, mainly the type and format of the activity. Strength training and aerobic training yield comparable but also differential benefits, and all should be used in physical activities. Also, a combination of physical activity with cognitive activity appears to enhance its effect on cognition in older age. Hence, such combined training approaches are preferable to homogeneous trainings. Studies of brain physiology changes due to physical activity show general as well as specific effects on certain brain structures and functions, particularly in the frontal cortex and the hippocampus, which are those areas most affected by advanced age. Physical activity also appears to improve cognition in patients with mild cognitive dysfunction and dementia and often ameliorates the disease symptoms. This makes physical training an important intervention for those groups of older people. Apart from cognition, physical activity leads to improvement of emotional functions. Exercise can lead to improvement of psychological well-being in older adults. Most importantly, exercise appears to reduce symptoms of depression in seniors. In future intervention studies it should be clarified who profits most from physical activity. Further, the conditions that influence the cognitive and emotional benefits older people derive from physical activity should be investigated in more detail. Finally, measures of brain activity that can be easily applied should be included as far as possible.

Article

Cerebral palsy (CP) is defined as non-progressive damage to the brain at or around birth, which leads to varying symptoms depending on the extent and location of damage. The leading symptom is sensory-motor impairment of varying expression, but additional perceptual, cognitive, and socio-emotional symptoms are common. CP can be divided into four types, with bilateral spastic being by far the most frequent, followed by the unilateral spastic, the dyskinetic, and the ataxic variants. The intellectual, linguistic, and cognitive profile of CP is extremely variant, but all qualities correlate more or less with CP type and motor impairment. Early diagnosis is important since early intervention may promote all developmental dimensions. Generally, individuals with unilateral spastic CP have the best (almost normal) intellectual, linguistic, and cognitive outcomes, while those with bilateral spastic CP fare the worst. Language perception is often an individual strength, while language expression, and particularly speech, may be heavily impaired. Attention and executive functions are often impaired as compared to typically developing controls, even in those children with normal intellectual functioning. The same holds true for visual perceptual functions, which are impaired in almost half of all children and adolescents with CP. The potential neuropsychological dysfunctions are a risk factor for arithmetic functions and literacy. Obstacles to participate in society are high for individuals with CP and heavily dependent on their motor, language, intellectual, and cognitive functions. However, quality of life is good for most children and adolescents, and they develop a sound self-concept. On the other side, bully experience is more common than amongst typically developing children and is associated with behavior problems and executive dysfunction. The development of children and adolescents with CP is determined by a complex interplay between physical, intellectual, and neuropsychological functions.

Article

Play  

Sergio M. Pellis and Vivien C. Pellis

Play behavior is relatively rare in the animal kingdom, but is widespread, and in some lineages is very common not only in childhood but also in adulthood. It can take many forms, as playful actions can be directed to a social partner (social play), to an inanimate object (object play), or self-directed, as the animal, jumps, runs, and turns (locomotor-rotational play). Considerable progress has been made in understanding the neural, emotional, and cognitive mechanisms mammals use in regulating social play, but whether comparable mechanisms are used to regulate other forms of play, or apply to non-mammalian animals, remains to be resolved. Similarly, social play in some mammals has been demonstrated to benefit the development of sociocognitive skills and emotional resilience, while locomotor-rotational play can benefit the development of motor skills. The factors that allow some species to gain these benefits also remain to be resolved. Statistical approaches that take the relatedness of species into account are increasingly being applied to analyze a growing comparative database that includes species from many different lineages. In addition, mathematical and computational models are being used to test the explanatory power of various factors to account for the evolution of play. Coupled with new methods in neuroscience that provide a deeper understanding of the brain during play, these approaches will enable extraordinary progress in understanding play over the next few decades.

Article

Karen Z. H. Li, Halina Bruce, and Rachel Downey

Research on the interplay of cognition and mobility in old age is inherently multidisciplinary, informed by findings from life span developmental psychology, kinesiology, cognitive neuroscience, and rehabilitation sciences. Early observational work revealed strong connections between sensory and sensorimotor performance with measures of intellectual functioning. Subsequent work has revealed more specific links between measures of cognitive control and gait quality. Convergent evidence for the interdependence of cognition and mobility is seen in patient studies, wherein cognitive impairment is associated with increased frequency and risk of falling. Even in cross-sectional studies involving healthy young and older adults, the effects of aging on postural control and gait are commonly exacerbated when participants perform a motor task with a concurrent cognitive load. This motor-cognitive dual-task method assumes that cognitive and motor domains compete for common capacity, and that older adults recruit more cognitive capacity than young adults to support gait and posture. Neuroimaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have revealed associations between measures of mobility (e.g., gait velocity and postural control) and measures of brain health (e.g., gray matter volumes, cortical thickness, white matter integrity, and functional connectivity). The brain regions most often associated with aging and mobility also appear to subserve high-level cognitive functions such as executive control, attention, and working memory (e.g., dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate). Portable functional neuroimaging has allowed for the examination of neural functioning during real-time walking, often in conjunction with detailed spatiotemporal measures of gait. A more recent strategy that addresses the interdependence of cognitive and motor processes in old age is cognitive remediation. Cognitive training has yielded promising improvements in balance, walking, and overall mobility status in healthy older adults, and those with age-related neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease.