Neural Correlates of Enhanced Audiovisual Processing in the Bilingual Brain


Bilingualism is associated with enhancements in perceptual and cognitive processing necessary for juggling multiple languages. Recent psychophysical studies demonstrate bilinguals also show enhanced multisensory processing and more restricted temporal binding windows for integrating audiovisual information. Here, we probed the neural mechanisms of bilinguals’ audiovisual benefits. We recorded neuroelectric responses in mono- and bi-lingual listeners to the double-flash paradigm in which auditory beeps concurrent with a single visual flash induces the perceptual illusion of multiple flashes. Relative to monolinguals, bilinguals showed less susceptibility to the illusion (fewer false perceptual reports) coupled with stronger and faster event-related potentials to audiovisual information. Source analyses of EEG data revealed monolinguals’ increased propensity for erroneously perceiving audiovisual stimuli was attributed to increased activity in primary visual (V1) and auditory cortex (PAC), increases in multisensory association areas (BA 37), but reduced frontal activity (BA 10). Regional activations were associated with an opposite pattern of behaviors: whereas stronger V1 and PAC activity predicted slower behavioral responses, stronger frontal BA10 responses elicited faster judgments. Our results suggest bilinguals’ higher precision in audiovisual perception reflects more veridical sensory coding of physical cues coupled with superior top-down gating of sensory information to suppress the generation of false percepts. Findings underscore that the plasticity afforded by speaking multiple languages shapes extra-linguistic brain regions and can enhance audiovisual brain processing in a domain-general manner.

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