A Bilingual Brain is an Empathetic One

Aug 12, 2015

There are many advantages to having a bilingual brain, and we’ve covered a few of those perks through this blog in the past. Recently, science has discovered one more reason why a bilingual brain is advantageous.

A recent study at the University of Chicago took 72 four- to six-year-old children and divided them into three groups: monolingual children with little exposure to a second language, monolingual children with moderate exposure to a second language, and bilingual children.

The researchers then had each child play a grid game against an adult. The grid was set up so that some of its squares were blocked from the adult’s view, and the children were made aware of the disadvantage. The adult would ask the child to move an object and observe whether the child took the adult’s impaired line of sight into account.

Overall, the more exposure children had to a second language, the better they understood the perspective of their opponent which led to better scores in the game. Children who were fully bilingual averaged a success rate of 77 percent, while children with moderate exposure to a second language scored at 76 percent. Children who were monolingual without much exposure trailed behind, succeeding at an average of 50 percent.

So what does this show? Researchers concluded that children exposed to multiple languages in their formative years are more empathetic and better at understanding others’ viewpoints. This understanding suggests that those children are better communicators and demonstrate a stronger grasp of nuanced communication at an earlier age than their monolingual peers.

Are you bilingual? We’d love to hear about your experience. What do you think you’ve gained from learning a second language (besides the second language, of course)? Do you think you’re more empathetic as a result? Let us know!

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