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Michael Fox

The Benefits of Bilingualism - NYTimes.com - 0 views

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    "SPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.

    This view of bilingualism is remarkably different from the understanding of bilingualism through much of the 20th century. Researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child's academic and intellectual development.

    They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual's brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn't so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.

    Bilinguals, for instance, seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. In a 2004 study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins - one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle.

    In the first task, the children had to sort the shapes by color, placing blue circles in the bin marked with the blue square and red squares in the bin marked with the red circle. Both groups did this with comparable ease. Next, the children were asked to sort by shape, which was more challenging because it required placing the images in a bin m
Michael Fox

The Certainty of Memory Has Its Day in Court - NYTimes.com - 1 views

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    "Witness testimony has been the gold standard of the criminal justice system, revered in courtrooms and crime dramas as the evidence that clinches a case.

    Yet scientists have long cautioned that the brain is not a filing cabinet, storing memories in a way that they can be pulled out, consulted and returned intact. Memory is not so much a record of the past as a rough sketch that can be modified even by the simple act of telling the story.

    For scientists, memory has been on trial for decades, and courts and public opinion are only now catching up with the verdict. It has come as little surprise to researchers that about 75 percent of DNA-based exonerations have come in cases where witnesses got it wrong.

    This month, the Supreme Court heard its first oral arguments in more than three decades that question the validity of using witness testimony, in a case involving a New Hampshire man convicted of theft, accused by a woman who saw him from a distance in the dead of night.

    And in August the New Jersey Supreme Court set new rules to cope with failings in witness accounts, during an appeal by a man picked from a photo lineup, and convicted of manslaughter and weapons possession in a 2003 fatal shooting.

    Rather than the centerpiece of prosecution, witness testimony should be viewed more like trace evidence, scientists say, with the same fragility and vulnerability to contamination.

    Why is a witness's account so often unreliable? Partly because the brain does not have a knack for retaining many specifics and is highly susceptible to suggestion. "Memory is weak in eyewitness situations because it's overloaded," said Barbara Tversky, a psychology professor at Columbia University's Teachers College in New York. "An event happens so fast, and when the police question you, you probably weren't concentrating on the details they're asking about." "
Michael Fox

MEMORY ON TRIAL - Science-Weekly-podcast.mp3 - 1 views

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    Can we trust the memory of court witnesses?
Michael Fox

BBC News - Do our memories get better or worse with age? - 0 views

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    "Our ability to recall events seems to sharpen as we get older but can it be trusted"
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