Interference Control In Elderly Bilinguals: Appearances Can Be Misleading

J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2015;37(5):455-70. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2014.990359. Epub 2015 Feb 2.


Bilingualism has been associated with successful aging. In particular, research on the cognitive advantages of bilingualism suggests that it can enhance control over interference and help delay the onset of dementia signs. However, the evidence on the so-called cognitive advantage is not unanimous; furthermore, little is known about the neural basis of this supposed cognitive advantage in bilingual as opposed to monolingual elderly populations. In this study, elderly bilingual and monolingual participants performed a visuospatial interference control task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning. Response times and accuracy rates were calculated for congruent and incongruent conditions of the Simon task, and the neurofunctional correlates of performance on the Simon task were examined. The results showed equivalent performance on the Simon task across groups but different underlying neural substrates in the two groups. With incongruent trials, monolinguals activated the right middle frontal gyrus, whereas bilinguals relied upon the left inferior parietal lobule. These results show that elderly bilinguals and monolinguals have equivalent interference control abilities, but relay on different neural substrates. Thus, while monolinguals show a classical PASA (posterior-anterior shift in aging) effect, recruiting frontal areas, bilinguals activate visuospatial processing alone and thus do not show this posterior-anterior shift. Moreover, a modulation of frontal activity with task-dynamic control of interference, observed in the elderly bilingual group alone, suggests that elderly bilinguals deal with interference control without recruiting a circuit that is particularly vulnerable to aging.

Keywords: Bilingualism; Cognitive control; Elderly; Executive function; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Neural substrate.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Multilingualism*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Semantics*


  • Oxygen