Extending Wednesdays

Improving Democracy

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Global Politics section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide for Students, where Stanford University political scientist and classicist Josiah Ober highlights some possible ways that our standard democratic practices might be improved, citing the work of fellow Stanford political scientist James Fishkin – below you can find an overview of related resources that are part of Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal.

Those interested in exploring the general theme of democracy can move in various directions spurred on by Professor Ober’s reflections. 

Students curious about Professor Fishkin’s deliberative polling techniques and where they have been directly applied, are referred to the clip Making Better Decisions as well as the references at the end of Chapter 9 in the associated eBook Democratic Lessons: What the Greeks Can Teach Us.  

Those motivated to more concretely compare and contrast democratic practices of Ancient Greece with those of our own day are directed to the clip, A Two-Way Street, as well as chapter 5 of the eBook and matching hour-long video.  Meanwhile, in our Extending Ideas in Global Politics video, the segment with Professor Ober concerns how social media might be best harnessed to improve our current democratic structures by bringing them more in line with some aspects of ancient Athenian practices. 

Students with a more historical bent might wish to examine how societal perceptions of ancient Athenian democratic practices changed drastically over time from a dangerous mistake to a heroic precedent.   In A Notable Exception, Professor Ober describes why he believes that ancient Athenian society provides a striking counterexample to Robert Michels’ so-called “Iron Law of Oligarchy”, while in Idealizing Democracy, historian and fellow classicist Richard Janko maintains that our idealized version of classical Athens stops us from looking objectively at its weaknesses. 

Additional Ideas Roadshow content relevant to generally explore the theme of democracy include the clips Democratic Misconceptions, Measuring Democracy, Rhetorical Insights, The Importance of Dialogue, The Merits of Dissent, Thinking It Through and Winning Ideas; the compilations Examining Democracy, Probing the Political and Tyranny of the Majority, and the hour-long video and matching eBook with University of Cambridge political scientist John Dunn Democracy: Clarifying the Muddle.

Extending Wednesdays

Bilingualism and Dementia


Welcome to the first of our Extending Wednesdays posts, where each week we’ll feature a different extended essay theme from Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal. 

While Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal highlights over 130 themes and concepts to help students launch their extended essay investigations through the combination of our comprehensive Extended Essay Guide and 7 Extending Ideas videos, many subscribers have suggested that it would be very helpful to be regularly presented with specific ideas to get the most out of our database.  So that’s what these posts are all about.  

Each post briefly describes a particular extended essay concept suggested by our resources, while explicitly designating all the additional Ideas Roadshow resources on our Portal to assist those interested in giving the topic a closer look. 

Bilingualism and Dementia

Our first Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Extending Ideas in Psychology video where renowned York University psychologist Ellen Bialystok highlights her groundbreaking work on the link between bilingualism and dementia.

In Chapter 6 of the Ideas Roadshow eBook called The Psychology of Bilingualism, Professor Bialystok describes her findings that show that, on average, being bilingual delays the first signs of dementia about four to five years compared to monolinguals.

Professor Bialystok is internationally known for her pioneering work on how bilingualism impacts the brain, a notion that inherently relies on how our brains are shaped by our experiences, a concept known as “neuroplasticity”.

Her many experiments on attention and multitasking have led her to conclude that bilinguals typically have a more developed frontal lobe structure than monolinguals, the part of the brain that is associated with planning and so-called “executive control”.  

But understanding how this fits with dementia is not so clear.

The puzzle is that dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, is initially a memory disorder.  It’s not a disease of executive control. How does an experience that boosts the front part of the brain protect us from a disease that initially strikes the middle part of the brain, since the memory disorders that are the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s come from the hippocampus in the medial temporal lobe?

“The theory, yet to be confirmed, is that because the front part of the brain is typically more developed for bilinguals than monolinguals, it’s better suited to provide compensation for deterioration that arises elsewhere.  This increased ability for executive control comes in as a kind of ‘cognitive reserve’.” 

Possible areas of investigation for an extended essay include an examination of the current state of the theory of “cognitive reserve, a comparative examination of studies linking dementia to bilingualism, an analysis of research methods associated with such studies, suggestions for further investigations that might help distinguish between competing theories and interpretation, various other specific avenues of psychological research linking language with memory, and the use of fMRI and other brain diagnostic tools for psychological research. Given the natural overlap of many of these themes with neuroscience, some may be appropriate for a literature-based EE in biology. 

Primary Ideas Roadshow resources includes the clips Improving Multitasking, Measuring Brain Activity, Metalinguistic Awareness, Reducing the Mess and Taking the Right Path, the compilation videos Extending Ideas in Psychology and The Science of Language, the hour-long video The Psychology of Bilingualism and the eBook, The Psychology of Bilingualism.

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