Is Bilingualism Associated With Enhanced Executive Functioning in Adults? A Meta-Analytic Review

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Abstract

Because of enduring experience of managing two languages, bilinguals have been argued to develop superior executive functioning compared with monolinguals. Despite extensive investigation, there is, however, no consensus regarding the existence of such a bilingual advantage. Here we synthesized comparisons of bilinguals’ and monolinguals’ performance in six executive domains using 891 effect sizes from 152 studies on adults. We also included unpublished data, and considered the potential influence of a number of study-, task-, and participant-related variables. Before correcting estimates for observed publication bias, our analyses revealed a very small bilingual advantage for inhibition, shifting, and working memory, but not for monitoring or attention. No evidence for a bilingual advantage remained after correcting for bias. For verbal fluency, our analyses indicated a small bilingual disadvantage, possibly reflecting less exposure for each individual language when using two languages in a balanced manner. Moreover, moderator analyses did not support theoretical presuppositions concerning the bilingual advantage. We conclude that the available evidence does not provide systematic support for the widely held notion that bilingualism is associated with benefits in cognitive control functions in adults.

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