Are there bilingual advantages on nonlinguistic interference tasks? Implications for the plasticity of executive control processes

Psychon Bull Rev. 2011 Aug;18(4):625-58. doi: 10.3758/s13423-011-0116-7.


It has been proposed that the unique need for early bilinguals to manage multiple languages while their executive control mechanisms are developing might result in long-term cognitive advantages on inhibitory control processes that generalize beyond the language domain. We review the empirical data from the literature on nonlinguistic interference tasks to assess the validity of this proposed bilingual inhibitory control advantage. Our review of these findings reveals that the bilingual advantage on conflict resolution, which by hypothesis is mediated by inhibitory control, is sporadic at best, and in some cases conspicuously absent. A robust finding from this review is that bilinguals typically outperform monolinguals on both compatible and incompatible trials, often by similar magnitudes. Together, these findings suggest that bilinguals do enjoy a more widespread cognitive advantage (a bilingual executive processing advantage) that is likely observable on a variety of cognitive assessment tools but that, somewhat ironically, is most often not apparent on traditional assays of nonlinguistic inhibitory control processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cognition*
  • Executive Function*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Language
  • Middle Aged
  • Multilingualism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Young Adult