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.