Bilingualism alters children's frontal lobe functioning for attentional control

Dev Sci. 2017 May;20(3):10.1111/desc.12377. doi: 10.1111/desc.12377. Epub 2016 Jan 6.


Bilingualism is a typical linguistic experience, yet relatively little is known about its impact on children's cognitive and brain development. Theories of bilingualism suggest that early dual-language acquisition can improve children's cognitive abilities, specifically those relying on frontal lobe functioning. While behavioral findings present much conflicting evidence, little is known about its effects on children's frontal lobe development. Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), the findings suggest that Spanish-English bilingual children (n = 13, ages 7-13) had greater activation in left prefrontal cortex during a non-verbal attentional control task relative to age-matched English monolinguals. In contrast, monolinguals (n = 14) showed greater right prefrontal activation than bilinguals. The present findings suggest that early bilingualism yields significant changes to the functional organization of children's prefrontal cortex for attentional control and carry implications for understanding how early life experiences impact cognition and brain development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multilingualism*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared