Thinking outside the box: The brain-bilingualism relationship in the light of early neurobiological variability

Brain Lang. 2020 Dec:211:104879. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2020.104879. Epub 2020 Oct 17.


Bilingualism represents a distinctive way to investigate the interplay between brain and behaviour, and an elegant model to study the role of environmental factors in shaping this relationship. Past neuroimaging research has mainly focused on how bilingualism influences brain structure, and how eventually the brain accommodates a second language. In this paper, we discuss a more recent contribution to the field which views bilingualism as lens to understand brain-behaviour mappings from a different perspective. It has been shown, in contexts not related to bilingualism, that cognitive performance across several domains can be predicted by neuroanatomical variants determined prenatally and largely impervious to postnatal changes. Here, we discuss novel findings indicating that bilingualism modulates the predictive role of these variants on domain-specific cognition. The repercussions of these findings are potentially far-reaching on multiple levels, and highlight the need to shape more complex questions for progress in cognitive neuroscience approaches to bilingualism.

Keywords: Bilingualism; Brain anatomy; Brain-behavior relationship; Language; Structural MRI; Structure-leading-function; Sulcal pattern.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Multilingualism*
  • Neurobiology
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Thinking / physiology*