COSTA MARTINEZ, ALBERT
ICREA Research Professor at UPF (Universitat Pompeu Fabra). Humanities
I received my MA in psychology from Universitat de Barcelona in 1993. In that year I was awarded a PhD fellowship from the Spanish Government and I enrolled in the PhD program “Language and Cognitive Science” at the Universitat de Barcelona where I received my PhD in Psychology in 1997. In 1998, I started my post-doctoral career at the “Brain and Cognitive Sciences department” at MIT, thanks to the funding from the Catalan Government. From 1999 to 2000, I was a post-doctoral fellow at the “Cognitive Neuropsychology laboratory” at Harvard University with a “Fulbright scholarship”. In 2001, I moved to the Cognitive Neuroscience department at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste. From 2002 to 2005 I was a research fellow at the University of Barcelona funded by the “Ramon y Cajal program”. In 2006 I became an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology of the same university. Since 2008 I became Research Professor at ICREA- Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
My main area of research focuses on the cognitive and brain bases of bilingualism. In the last 5 years, I have been particularly interested in understanding the cognitive processes that allow bilingual speakers to keep their two languages apart during speech production. In other words, how are bilinguals able to restrict their speech production to only one language while preventing massive interference from their other language?
To address this issue, I have conducted experiments using both classic experimental psychology techniques and brain imaging and electrophysiological techniques, and studying both brain-damage individuals (patients with stroke and Alzheimer's disease) and healthy individuals. This multi-perspective assessment has allowed me to gather new insights about the brain substrates of language control in bilingualism. The outcome of my research has had a strong impact on the scientific community interested in bilingualism, and some of the studies I have published are amongst the most cited in the field.
The issue of how bilinguals control their two languages offers a natural context in which to study the interaction between language processing and attentional control. In fact, in the last two years I have devoted some effort in trying to understand whether bilingual language control has a collateral effect on other cognitive domains, such as attentional executive functions. The results of these studies offer a positive answer, suggesting that bilingualism may act as mental training that leads to benefits in the domain-general executive functions. An important part of my present research is focused on understanding how such cross-talk between different domains emerges. We aim at discovering the link by studying the extent to which the brain structures engaged in attentional control are also recruited during bilingual language processing. Furthermore, to gather knowledge about how this benefit associated with bilingualism develops, we also test very young infants that have been exposed to one (monolingual infants) or to two languages (bilingual infants) in several executive control tasks.
Besides the scientific interest of the questions addressed in my research, I believe that understanding how two languages are represented in one brain (and the collateral consequences of bilingualism) is also of a general social interest. Bilingualism is becoming the rule rather than the exception in many areas of the world, and is certainly the linguistic situation in Catalonia. This fact raises many questions in modern societies such as: What are the consequences of bilingual as compared to monolingual education? Should the rehabilitation of patients with acquired language disorders focus on one or two languages? Does bilingualism act as a positive factor delaying the appearance of dementia symptoms? Hopefully, our research will help to answer these questions.
Language Processing, Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience, Bilingualism, Attentional Control