Tag Archives: Multilingualism

Questions about the bilingual advantage

9 Dec

I have written a number of times about evidence that bilingualism may be protective against dementia. More narrowly, there has also been evidence that bilingual individuals have an advantage in executive control tasks. Now a paper in Psychological Science raises the possibility that that the latter claim may  a consequence of publication bias:

 “It is a widely held belief that bilinguals have an advantage over monolinguals in executive-control tasks, but is this what all studies actually demonstrate? The idea of a bilingual advantage may result from a publication bias favoring studies with positive results over studies with null or negative effects. To test this hypothesis, we looked at conference abstracts from 1999 to 2012 on the topic of bilingualism and executive control. We then determined which of the studies they reported were subsequently published. Studies with results fully supporting the bilingual-advantage theory were most likely to be published, followed by studies with mixed results. Studies challenging the bilingual advantage were published the least. This discrepancy was not due to differences in sample size, tests used, or statistical power. A test for funnel-plot asymmetry provided further evidence for the existence of a publication bias.”

Here is a summary of the paper.

“Ultimately, the findings suggest that the commonly accepted view that bilingualism confers a cognitive advantage may not accurately reflect the full body of existing scientific evidence.
According to de Bruin, these findings underscore how essential it is to review the published scientific literature with a critical eye, and how important it is that researchers share all of their findings on a given topic, regardless of the outcome.”



More evidence: Learning a second language may reduce the risk of dementia

3 Jun

The BBC is reporting:

“Learning a second language can have a positive effect on the brain, even if it is taken up in adulthood, a University of Edinburgh study suggests.”

Unfortunately, the link to the original paper is not working. I will try to track it down and post it or its abstract.

Here is the abstract from another paper by the same research team. From its conclusion;

“This is the largest study so far documenting a delayed onset of dementia in bilingual patients and the first one to show it separately in different dementia subtypes. It is the first study reporting a bilingual advantage in those who are illiterate, suggesting that education is not a sufficient explanation for the observed difference. The findings are interpreted in the context of the bilingual advantages in attention and executive functions.”


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Bilingual advantage for working memory

10 May

Is there a bilingual advantage for working memory? A paper published in Learning and Individual Differences suggests that there is.

Since bilingual individuals must often process two languages simultaneously,  it seems reasonable to suspect that  the extra cognitive work might confer benefits. Here are the highlights of the paper:

• The four working memory component model exists in mono- and bilingual 8–12 year-old children.
• Working memory construct is conceptualized similarly in mono- and bilingual 8–12 year-old children.
• There were significant differences in the latent factors means that favored the bilinguals in the four WM components.

There is evidence that bilingual individuals are more resistant to dementia.

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