Researchers found that the process of learning a language and acquiring a wider vocabulary has the effect of stimulating the same part of the brain as having sex or eating chocolate.
Scientists from Spain and Germany found people who expand their vocabulary trigger a part of the brain known as the ventral striatum, a pleasure centre that is activated when people are involved in activities such as sex, drugs, gambling or eating sugary foods.
Researchers from Barcelona’s Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute and Otto von GuerickeUniversity in Germany conducted trials on 36 adults who participated in gambling simulations and language-based tests.
Scans carried out after the tests, showed that both activities stimulated the same parts of the brain.
The study also seemed to confirm the belief that learning a second language helps to keep your brain sharp as you age.
The University of Edinburgh detected a pattern of slower mental decline among the bilingual in a group of 835 born in 1936.
Those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities in their 70s than their peers.
“Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the ageing brain,” one of the authors of the study commented.
“Those with higher myelin concentrations – or a better connection to the reward area – were able to learn more words. The main objective of the study was to know to what extent language learning activates subcortical reward and motivational systems,” said Pablo Ripollés, PhD student at Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute.
The researchers now hope to use results from their study to develop new treatment for people with language-learning difficulties.