Chi parla due lingue ha il cervello più forte

fonte: questo articolo de La Repubblica

Passando da un idioma all’altro la mente costruisce una riserva. Che gli permette di adattarsi alla nuova situazione e di recuperare le funzioni cognitive. Lo evidenziano le tecniche di riabilitazione post- ictus


Parlare due o più lingue aiuta a riprendersi dopo un ictus. Tutto merito della cosiddetta riserva cognitiva: la capacità del cervello di resistere in situazioni di emergenza. A Hyderabad, oltre l’inglese e l’hindi, si parlano l’urdu e il telugu. L’effetto è un cicaleccio variegato di suoni. A tutto vantaggio del cervello che, passando da un idioma all’altro, rafforza le proprie connessioni cerebrali, le sinapsi. Proteggendosi. Anche dai danni dell’ictus.
Suvarna Alladi è una neurologa del National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences di Bangalore, in India, e ha analizzato le perfomance di recupero post-ictus di oltre 600 pazienti proprio nella città poliglotta Hyderabad, dove in tanti, indipendentemente dal livello di istruzione e dallo stato sociale, parlano due o più lingue. Dei 608 pazienti seguiti per oltre due anni 255 ne parlavano una sola e 353 ne parlavano (almeno) due. Questi ultimi avevano performance di recupero nettamente migliori, e nel complesso quelli che avevano funzioni cognitive normali dopo l’ictus erano circa il doppio. Come se il bilinguismo avesse protetto il cervello dal danno, rendendolo più plastico e in qualche modo più forte.
Quando abbiamo due lingue madre il nostro cervello è più attivo in diverse aree. “È come se la nostra corteccia cerebrale svolgesse più compiti nel passare da una lingua all’altra“, commenta Leandro Provinciali, presidente della Società italiana di neurologia. E, spiegano i ricercatori indiani, l’allenamento rafforza il cervello preparandolo a rispondere meglio a eventuali danni.
Quello che accade, continua Provinciali, è la dimostrazione delle grandissime capacità di plasticità e adattamento del cervello: “Nei bilingue la scelta delle parole si fa in base al contesto in cui ci si trova, pescando dalle risorse che servono al momento. Il cervello si allena a sviluppare queste strategie alternative“. Ovvero, se il contesto cambia, come accade in seguito al danno da ictus, il cervello si adatta a rispondere a una nuova situazione. L’idea è che con le lingue il cervello costruisca un pozzo da cui pescare in caso di emergenza. Una riserva cognitiva. Insomma, quando la benzina finisce l’automobile va in riserva e la macchina continua a camminare. Senza che noi ce ne accorgiamo. Quella cognitiva funziona in maniera pressoché simile: quando le abilità vengono compromesse, per esempio dall’ictus, il cervello ripiega sulla riserva per continuare a mantenere le proprie funzioni. A questa riserva cognitiva serve tutto: dalle lezioni di musica, alla lettura, alle lingue ovviamente, spiegano gli scienziati.
Il recupero dall’ictus è l’ultima scoperta dei neurologi che indagano sul cosiddetto “vantaggio dei bilingui”, che , ad esempio, si associa a un ritardo nella comparsa dei sintomi, e quindi della diagnosi, dell’Alzheimer. Ma, bizzarramente, non migliora le abilità linguistiche, hanno notato Suvarna e colleghi. A conferma che saper passare dall’hindi, all’inglese, all’urdu non aiuta a migliorare la lingua in sé. Aiuta, piuttosto, a far riserva.

is mental illness on the rise in academia?

source: this website

A recent post on the Guardian Higher Education Network blog highlighted that mental health problems are on the rise among UK academics amid the pressures of greater job insecurity, constant demand for results and an increasingly marketised higher education system. University counselling staff and workplace health experts have seen a steady increase in numbers seeking help for mental health problems over the past decade, with research indicating nearly half of academics show symptoms of psychological distress.

The article, which reported instances of depression, sleep issues, eating disorders, alcoholism, self-harming, and even suicide attempts among PhDstudents, has been shared hundreds of thousands of times and elicited comments outlining similar personal experiences from students and academics. But while anecdotal accounts multiply, mental health issues in academia are little-researched and hard data is thin on the ground. However, a study published in 2013 by the University and College Union (UCU) actually revealed that academics experience higher stress than those in the wider population, the survey revealed.

Pat Hunt, head of Nottingham University’s counselling service for staff and students and a member of the UK body for heads of university counselling services, said all universities were experiencing an increase in mental health problems. “There are increasing levels of anxiety, both generalised and acute, levels of stress, of depression and levels of what I would call perfectionism“, she says. “By that I mean when someone is aiming for and constantly expecting really high standards, so that even when there is a positive outcome they feel they have fallen short. So instead of internal aspiration helping them to do well it actually hinders them“.

Dr Alan Swann of Imperial College London, chair of the higher education occupational physicians committee, blamed “demands for increased product and productivity” for rising levels of mental health problems among academics. He says: “They all have to produce results – you are only as good as your research rating or as good as your ability to bring in funding for research“. Swann says most academics are stressed rather than mentally unwell: “They are thinking about their work and the consequences of not being as good as they should be; they’re having difficulty switching off and feeling guilty if they’re not working seven days a week“. Academics and researchers can become isolated and not realise how “out of kilter” their working lives are, he says. The intense pressure of doctoral and post-doctoral study, and early-career academia can also reveal existing mental health problems, he adds. Universities, including Imperial, have improved systems to help, yet academia remains “pretty macho”.

Research by Gail Kinman, professor of occupational health psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, on behalf of the UCU, offers one of the few pieces of data on mental health problems among academics. There are examples of good practice within universities which could be shared across the sector, Kinman says, but, as an independently-minded group who are strongly committed to their work, academics are not always straightforward to support. “We don’t like being told ‘you can’t email at two in the morning’. You can’t impose solutions from other sectors – academics are quite different and there’s no ‘one size fits all’“.

If academics already in post must wrestle with the stresses of fast change, what of their successors? Edward Pinkney, a mental health consultant working in education, says: “Institutions have a broader civic duty to educate potential academics about the university environment, so that prospective academics can make a more informed decision about whether or not to proceed. As universities become increasingly businesslike, there’s a growing need for them to be independently monitored to ensure that they are not just meeting basic standards of support for their members, but also that they are providing an accurate representation of academic life and not misselling it“.

NEW blog page: Research – Postdoc(s)

I’ve added a brand new page to my blog! Just click here (or keep on reading this post) to know a bit more about my current research interests.


My biomedical and robotics engineering multidisciplinary background, along with the experience gained in the course of my doctoral program, allow me to accomplish different tasks. My main research interests are briefly summarized below.

Development of a software for hand rehabilitation


A 3D interface developed in Unity3D (C# language) is proposed for the purpose of processing in real time the data collected by one Leap Motion Controller connected to a common personal computer. The movements required by the rehabilitation program can be recorded by the physiotherapist and saved by the software as a set of reference models. The user is asked to select the movement they wish to practice via the Leap Motion Controller, thus without any invasive external device. Throughout the whole rehabilitation exercise, the software is able to detect in real time the orientation of the user’s hand phalanges and palm; those data are compared to the reference model (white hand in the figure above) and the accuracy of the performed movement is shown in real time by means of three different colors (green, orange and red segments in the figure above). The speed and the difficulty of the exercises can be progressively adjusted to the user’s needs: this allows to continuously provide challenging exercises as well as to keep track of the user’s improvements in accuracy. Besides being extremely low-cost and non-invasive, the proposed 3D interface is really user-friendly and is mainly intended to speed up the whole rehabilitation process.

Development of a lower limb exoskeleton for partial body weight support


My current research focuses on the design and manufacturing of a lower limb exoskeleton for partial body weight support. Such assistive devices is intended to be proposed to the following two communities:

  • those people who suffer from muscle weakness problems (ie: upon long periods of hospitalisation, after injuries or accidents);
  • those subjects who need specific rehabilitation programs where the residual mobility capabilities need to be progressively enhanced by lightweight and energy-efficient devices.

The key idea consists in joining the support provided by crutches and walkers to the advantages brought by a legged structure. The proposed lower limb exoskeleton should be as much portable as possible; partial body weight support should be continuously provided to the patient, so as to relieve a part of the efforts experienced by the lower limb muscles during daily life activities. The design must be at the same time robust and efficient, in order to provide support without affecting the user’s posture, balance and stability. Gait analysis is meant to be performed in real time during normal walking by processing the data of specific sensors (embedded in the shoe soles) collected by a compact Arduino system.


Publications en Robotique – version 2015

Un document de synthèse des revues et conférences excellentes et de très bon niveau en robotique est accessible en cliquant ici. Ce document est issu de deux groupes de travail du GdR Robotique. L’objectif de ce document est triple :

  • il s’agit de fournir aux chercheurs, et peut être tout particulièrement aux plus jeunes, un guide pour les aider dans leur démarche de publication, en indiquant les revues et conférences stratégiquement les plus pertinentes en termes d’écho scientifique et d’évaluation ;
  • il s’agit de fournir au CNRS ainsi qu’aux autres tutelles un outil pour faciliter leurs arbitrages internes et le dialogue avec les autres communautés. Cet outil issu de la “communauté robotique“, et donc des personnes concernées, représente une “vérité terrain” beaucoup plus objective que celle qui se limite uniquement aux indicateurs bibliométriques ;
  • il a vocation à être diffusé auprès des différents comités (CoNRS, CNU, comité d’évaluation des unités de recherche, mais aussi les comités scientifiques régionaux et locaux) pour les aider dans leur évaluation des chercheurs / enseignants-chercheurs / candidats à un poste dans le domaine de la robotique.

Sur ce dernier point, les rédacteurs de ce guide réaffirment le fait que l’évaluation des chercheurs doit être conduite par des experts compétents et indépendants. Ils sont bien conscients de ses limites mais espèrent qu’il permettra un éclairage plus fiable que des chiffres bruts sur la qualité de la production scientifique d’un chercheur.