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Bilinguals Are Cognitively Flexible

Weekly Update from the Director – February 9, 2024
Dear GISC Community,
 
Bilinguals are cognitively flexible.
 
The ability to understand different points of view is a quality we associate with people who show high degrees of empathy and also creativity. To let go off – to suppress – some pre-existing knowledge may be an important attribute to freely consider a viewpoint that was not previously encountered. Another way of saying this is to allow one to be open to a different point of view – not necessarily to believe it but to consider it. The quality of being open-minded does not preclude one from forming an opinion, but promotes the idea of evaluating information based on different points of view and reaching a conclusion (or re-evaluating a previously made conclusion). A prompt dismissal of a different point of view is akin to "being set in one’s way of thinking." In terms of creativity, this open-mindedness allows one to consider alternative or multiple paths to finding solutions – in short – divergent thinking.
 
Developmental psychologists link this ability to consider varying points of view as a manifestation of cognitive inhibition. "Cognitive inhibition cannot be so great as to completely block one's experiences while evaluating another point of view, but must be strong enough to enable an accurate representation of that point of view," according to research.
 
There is now an abundance of research that shows that bilingualism fosters cognitive inhibition, and thus, promotes qualities such as empathy and creativity. Bilinguals find themselves more frequently and more naturally in situations in which they have to suppress one or the other language that one is capable of speaking and comprehending (i.e. processing).
 
Most of this research is relatively new. Please allow me to refer you to several recent studies:
 
 
An oft-performed experiment in researching cognitive inhibition is the Stroop Experiment designed "to assess the ability to inhibit cognitive interference that occurs when the processing of a specific stimulus feature impedes the simultaneous processing of a second stimulus attribute, well-known as the Stroop Effect." The Stroop Effect, thus, is and measures the delay in reaction time between corresponding and non-corresponding stimuli.
 
If you would like to experiment at home with this, create a page featuring colors in print form, not matching the actual color. Make it a family game – who can identify (not read) the featured (depicted) colors the fastest. An example is as follows:
 
Purple, Yellow, Red, Orange, Green, Red, Yellow, Black
 
This page will give you a myriad of patterns. Have fun, and let me know who is fastest in your family.
 
Lastly, please note that the International Baccalaureate considers open-mindedness among its ten components of its IB Learner Profile. The IB defines open-mindedness as follows: "We critically appreciate our own cultures and personal histories, as well as the values and traditions of others. We seek and evaluate a range of points of view, and we are willing to grow from the experience."
 
Thank you,
Ben
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German International School Chicago is a preschool through 8th grade school that prepares students to become well-rounded, creative, and responsible global citizens. We provide students with a rigorous German-English bilingual education in a supportive and individualized learning environment.

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