The cognitive stimulation induced by multilingualism may slow down age-related memory impairment. However, a suitable neuroscientific framework to assess the influence of multilingualism on age-related memory processes is missing. We propose an experimental paradigm that assesses the effects of semantic congruency on episodic memory using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). To this end, we modified the picture-word interference (PWI) task to be suitable for the assessment of older multilingual subjects undergoing fMRI. In particular, stimulus materials were prepared in multiple languages (French, German, Luxembourgish, English) and closely matched in semantic properties, thus enabling participants to perform the experiment in a language of their choice. This paradigm was validated in a group (n = 62) of healthy, older participants (over 64 years) who were multilingual, all practicing three or more languages. Consistent with the engagement of semantic congruency processes, we found that the encoding and recognition of semantically related vs. unrelated picture-word pairs evoked robust differences in behavior and the neural activity of parietal-temporal networks. These effects were negligibly modulated by the language used to perform the task. Based on this validation in a multilingual population, we conclude that the proposed paradigm will allow future studies to evaluate whether multilingualism aptitude engages neural systems in a manner that protects long-term memory from aging-related decline.
- cognitive decline
- episodic memory
- picture word interference task
- semantic memory