emilyEmily Jennings is a full-time human, part-time poet, who loves the study of what makes humanity so diverse. She completed a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience, cum laude, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2017 and is currently pursuing a Master of Science in the Neurosciences at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Her interests include history, anthropology, genetics, and—last but certainly not least!—linguistics. As a member of the Bilingualism and Aging Lab this semester, Emily is working on a systematic literature review of the role of genetics in contributing to individual differences in cognitive control.



The role of genetics in contributing to individual differences in cognitive control

Bilinguals and monolinguals show differences in the neural circuitry involved in cognitive control. According to the bilingual brain training hypothesis, bilinguals' need to constantly choose, apply, and move between different sets of grammar rules results in the strengthening of the fronto-striatal loop such that the basal ganglia is well-tuned to mediate the flow of information to the prefrontal cortex during cognitive control. Furthermore, dopamine release in the fronto-striatal loop may play a role in the strengthening of the basal ganglia's ability to do so. In fact, a gene involved in the functioning of the dopamine system may contribute to one’s capacity for cognitive control. However, this is only one gene of a subset of several possibilities. Given the need to better understand the individual differences that contribute to disparities in cognitive control between monolinguals and bilinguals, the project therefore seeks to specifically review (1) what exactly is indicated by measures of cognitive control and how those measures are obtained, (2) what is known about the polymorphisms at a number of genes that might contribute to cognitive control, and (3) what is known about how these polymorphisms are distributed across populations. Such knowledge is important for better understanding the cultural and social factors that contribute to differences in language development between groups of people (i.e. monolinguals and bilinguals), as well as differences in cognitive development and decline (such as within and between members of different age groups).

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Prof. dr. Merel Keijzer



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