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Poster E65, Friday, November 10, 10:00 – 11:15 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Individual Difference-Related Neuroplasticity during Second Language Training

Jennifer Legault1, Angela Grant1, Shin-Yi Fang1, Ping Li1;1The Pennsylvania State University

Second language (L2) learning is associated with a variety of learning-induced brain changes, including changes in functional activity, functional and structural connectivity, and gray matter (GM) structure. Essential to understanding this relationship between neuroplasticity and language learning is the examination of the time course of these brain changes and how they vary with individual differences in native language (L1), L2, and cognitive control performance. The current longitudinal structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI) study examines changes in cortical thickness (CT) and gray matter volume (GMV) in English late intermediate-level learners across one academic year of Spanish classroom training. English and Spanish performance was assessed through English and Spanish lexical decision (LD) tasks at two time points during L2 training. During these sessions, sMRI scans were conducted to measure CT and GMV. The Flanker task was administered before training to identify individual differences in cognitive control. We used Freesurfer’s longitudinal mixed effects (LME; Bernal-Rusiel, Greve, Reuter, Fischl, & Sabuncu, 2012) modeling to examine gray matter changes and their relationship with behavioral measures in a priori designated regions of interest (ROIs). These ROIs were determined based on changes in functional brain networks across LD tasks during L2 training, as reported in a previous publication (Grant, Fang, & Li, 2015). Results from our LME analyses indicated that L1 and L2 performance were positively correlated with GM structure only after L2 training. Our results indicate different regions in this network were associated with L1 versus L2 performance: English LD performance (L1) was positively associated with right middle temporal gyrus CT, whereas Spanish LD performance (L2) was positively associated with right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and middle frontal gyrus (MFG) CT. Interestingly, our previous fMRI study found Spanish LD performance to be associated with increased neural activity in the left IFG and MFG and decreased activity in the left ACC (Grant et al., 2015). Further examination into possible laterality differences between functional and structural changes can help our understanding of the relationship between functional and structural correlates of L2 acquisition. Moreover, we found greater CT in the left IFG after L2 training was associated with a lower flanker effect (indicative of greater inhibitory control). This pattern of association is particularly interesting since according to Grant et al. (2015) the functional activity in the left IFG was associated with greater flanker effect (less inhibitory control) at the beginning of training but not after L2 training. Together, these findings point to an important relationship between the IFG, cognitive control, and L2 experience in both functional and structural brain changes. The current findings add to the current literature by helping to tease apart interactions between L1 and L2 performance, cognitive performance, and GM structure over time in late L2 learners.

Topic Area: Multilingualism

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