Adam John Privitera
February 2022

Adam John Priv­it­era was one of our 2020 Gorilla Grants winners — con­grat­u­la­tions Adam!

What do you work on?

Present­ly, the research I con­tribute to has three com­ple­men­tary focuses: 1) the influ­ence of expe­ri­en­tial factors on cog­ni­tion with a focus on lan­guage expe­ri­ence; 2) indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences in the con­fig­u­ra­tion of brain net­works under­ly­ing cog­ni­tion; and, 3) the appli­ca­tion of research find­ings in these areas to edu­ca­tion. I employ a com­bi­na­tion of behav­ioral and neu­ro­phys­i­o­log­i­cal mea­sures in my work. Most recent­ly, I received a grant to inves­ti­gate the cog­ni­tive con­se­quences of dif­fer­ences in Chinese dialect pro­fi­cien­cy.


What did you do using Gorilla and what did you find?

I used Gorilla in order to admin­is­ter self-report­ed instru­ments and behav­ioral tasks to samples of bilin­gual stu­dents in Main­land China. This was during a time when in-person data col­lec­tion was not pos­si­ble because of COVID restric­tions. Using classic behav­ioral par­a­digms includ­ing the Simon task and Atten­tion Network Test, I inves­ti­gat­ed how dif­fer­ences in bilin­gual lan­guage expe­ri­ence influ­enced exec­u­tive func­tion. Specif­i­cal­ly, I was inter­est­ed in explor­ing whether higher report­ed levels of bilin­gual­ism (i.e., higher second lan­guage pro­fi­cien­cy, immer­sion, or dom­i­nance) were asso­ci­at­ed with improved inhibito­ry and atten­tion­al control. While most pre­vi­ous studies compare task per­for­mance between samples of mono­lin­guals and bilin­guals, we looked at the influ­ence of dif­fer­ences in lan­guage expe­ri­ence within a sample of bilinguals.

We found that bilin­gual­ism con­ferred general cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits, but that these ben­e­fits dif­fered based on the spe­cif­ic dimen­sion of lan­guage expe­ri­ence. The most con­sis­tent finding was that of improved mon­i­tor­ing asso­ci­at­ed with higher report­ed second lan­guage pro­fi­cien­cy. This finding aligns with the most recent the­o­ret­i­cal work regard­ing how bilin­gual­ism influ­ences exec­u­tive func­tion (Bia­lystok & Craik, 2022).

To the best of our knowl­edge, this was the first inves­ti­ga­tion of the “bilin­gual advan­tage” in high school aged Man­darin-English bilin­guals. Addi­tion­al­ly, we ana­lyzed our data using linear mixed-effects models which allowed us to better capture indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences in our analy­ses. While these are widely used in the field of psy­cholin­guis­tics, they are almost never used to analyze data col­lect­ed from tasks like the Simon and Atten­tion Network Test.


Has this study been published?

Yes! Our first study was pub­lished in Current Research in Behav­ioral Sci­ences. Our second study is cur­rent­ly under review by Bilin­gual­ism: Lan­guage and Cog­ni­tion.


For you, what is the stand-out feature in Gorilla?

One feature that might be unique con­sid­er­ing where I conduct my research is that Gorilla works without the need for a VPN. This is a huge issue for those of us con­duct­ing research in the Chinese Mainland.


When you’re not working what do you enjoy doing?

I used to travel a lot but…you know. Recent­ly, I have been reading a lot more. I just fin­ished Mishima Yukio’s The Sea of Fer­til­i­ty tetral­o­gy. That was…interesting.


How do you think online research is going to change your field?

Behav­ioral studies on the influ­ence of bilin­gual­ism can now more easily recruit larger, more diverse samples of par­tic­i­pants. In my spe­cif­ic area of research, the major­i­ty of studies have been con­duct­ed on par­tic­i­pants in the United States and the United Kingdom. This ignores the major­i­ty of people in the bilin­gual world. The use of online behav­ioral tasks will hope­ful­ly support a move­ment towards inves­ti­gat­ing more diverse, under­stud­ied samples.


What real-world problem do you see that your research could impact?

I would like the find­ings from my work to inform edu­ca­tion­al lan­guage policy. I think it would be super cool if my home country (USA) moved in the direc­tion of bilin­gual edu­ca­tion at the nation­al level. Bilin­gual­ism is the closest thing to a super­pow­er humans will likely ever have.


How did Gorilla make your life or research better, easier or faster?

The ability to build entire exper­i­ments without coding dra­mat­i­cal­ly lowered the dif­fi­cul­ty asso­ci­at­ed with moving our projects online. If not for Gorilla’s easy to use inter­face, I would likely still be col­lect­ing data for these projects.


What advice would you give to someone start­ing out in behav­iour­al science/research?

I think the most impor­tant thing is to seek out diverse mentors. I’m for­tu­nate to have had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be men­tored by bril­liant researchers from Aus­tralia, Iran, Brazil, and else­where. I feel these diverse schol­ars helped refine my think­ing in a way that would have been impos­si­ble oth­er­wise. I also find it much easier to work among other diverse groups of researchers. I think this makes me more flex­i­ble and mar­ketable. I’d also suggest forcing your­self to write every single day. I don’t think the impor­tance of clarity in science writing is empha­sized enough and we all suffer because of it. I am nowhere close to being an excel­lent writer, but I have seen sig­nif­i­cant improve­ment since forcing myself to write about my work every single day. I wish I started the moment I began grad­u­ate school.


If you could inter­view any researcher (alive or dead), who would it be and why?

B.F. Skinner. He seems like he’d be a very inter­est­ing guy to chat with. I have a tattoo of him on my chest because I liked to make poor life choices in my early 20s.

Adam John Privitera
Picture showing a test glass Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience, Education
Picture showing an university graduates hat Lecturer of Psychology
Picture showing a School The University of Hong Kong/Wenzhou-Kean University
Portrait of Adam John Privitera

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