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Ellen Bialystok is a Canadian psychologist who is a Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology at York University as well as an Associate Scientist at the Rotman Research Institute of the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care.
She received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 1976.
Her main interest in research has been in the area of bilingualism and its effect on language and cognitive development in children. This area has expanded to also include exploration of adult processing and how bilingualism from a young age affects the cognitive skills, and retention of these skills, with aging. She has also worked in the areas of literacy acquisition in children, metalinguistic awareness models and second language acquisition, and the development of spatial cognition.
In addition to teaching and doing research, she has lectured in universities around the world, spanning four continents.
- Killam Research Fellowship
- Walter Gordon Research Fellowship
- Dean's Award for Outstanding Research
- Learning Distinguished Scholar in Residence.
- 2011 Donald O. Hebb Distinguished Contribution Award
Bilingualism and cognitive development
This area of research explores the effect of bilingualism on different aspects of cognitive development in children. The children taking part in the study are between 4 and 8 years old. It has shown that in solving problems that include misleading information, bilingual children perform better than monolingual children. This trend has been shown with both verbal and nonverbal tasks.
Acquisition of literacy skills
This area of research explores the conditions through which children learn to read. Connecting it back to Bialystok's interest in the effect of bilingualism, the cognitive and linguistic skills that are needed for children to become literate and the factors that are involved with doing so in different languages are also explored. This research looks at a group of monolinguals and three groups of bilinguals, with different relationships between English and the second language: for Spanish-English bilinguals the languages are similar and they are both written alphabetically in the same script, for Hebrew-English bilinguals the languages are different but they are both written alphabetically (phonetic Hebrew) in different scripts, for Chinese-English bilinguals both the language and the writing system are different.
Behavioural and neuroimaging studies of executive functioning
This research uses behavioural and neuroimaging studies of the performance of the processes that make up the response to certain attention and conflict tasks. In this way it is possible to find the executive processes involved in completing these tasks. The executive functions are the set of related abilities that are responsible for working memory, inhibitory control and planning. The control of all of these functions is found in the frontal lobes of the brain. Part of this research includes comparing the performance on these tasks, and the response of the brain, between monolingual and bilingual participants.
Bilingualism and cognitive aging
This area of research looks at how the previously studied executive processes are affected by aging. Normally these processes decline with age. In children and young adults the research has shown that the studied executive process are enhanced in bilingual individuals. The thought driving this research is that bilingualism, starting at a young age, combats this decline with age by reducing the rate with which the response naturally slows down as people get older. Thus far the studies have shown that the boost in executive processes in bilingual individuals increases in magnitude as the individuals age. This is because bilinguals keep higher levels of cognitive control, while the cognitive control of monolinguals decreases, beyond the age of 60.
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