Cortical Thickness in bilingual and monolingual children: Relationships to language use and language skill

Neuroimage. 2021 Nov:243:118560. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.118560. Epub 2021 Sep 7.


There is a growing body of evidence based on adult neuroimaging that suggests that the brain adapts to bilingual experiences to support language proficiency. The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study is a useful source of data for evaluating this claim during childhood, as it involves data from a large sample of American children. Using the baseline ABCD Study data collected at ages nine and ten, the goal of this study was to identify differences in cortical thickness between bilinguals and monolinguals and to evaluate how variability in English vocabulary and English use within bilinguals might explain these group differences. We identified bilingual participants as children who spoke a non-English language and were exposed to the non-English language at home. We then identified a matched sample of English monolingual participants based on age, sex, pubertal status, parent education, household income, non-verbal IQ, and handedness. Bilinguals had thinner cortex than monolinguals in widespread cortical regions. Within bilinguals, more English use was associated with greater frontal and parietal cortical thickness; greater English vocabulary was associated with greater frontal and temporal cortical thickness. These findings replicate and extend previous research with bilingual children and highlight unexplained cortical thickness differences between bilinguals and monolinguals.

Keywords: Bilingual; Child; Cortical Thickness; MRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain Cortical Thickness*
  • Child
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Multilingualism*
  • Speech Perception
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Vocabulary