Could interpreting help to keep your brain in good shape? Neuroscientist Laura Babcock attempted to answer this question during the interesting research work that she did for her doctorate in the Italian city of Trieste.
Laura speaks a number of languages and regularly takes lessons in her free time to keep her fluency levels high. She believes that our experiences in life can change our brains and cognitive processes. She was fascinated by simultaneous interpreting because it is a cognitive process that requires exceptional language management skills and she decided to begin her research project by examining a number of studies of bilingual people. They showed that intensive, extended use of two different languages boosts cognitive control. Therefore, it seemed likely that interpreters would benefit in the same way as bilingual people.
Laura decided to examine a group of 23 professional interpreters and a group of 21 multilingual people, then compare their results in memory tests, attention tests and tests of their reaction times while they were performing specific tasks, such as the Stroop Colour Word Interference Test.
The most interesting finding was that while interpreters enjoy the same cognitive benefits as bilingual people, simultaneous interpreting also brings specific advantages in terms of verbal and spatial memory, thus keeping the brains of people who work in the field “young” and sharp.
If you would like to know more, you can see Laura Babcock talking about her research (in English) in this video “Can interpretation save your mind?