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published: 05 December 2017
Anatoliy V. Kharkhurin,
American University of Sharjah,
United Arab Emirates
University of Haifa, Israel
Karolinska Institute (KI), Sweden
This article was submitted to
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 31 March 2017
Accepted: 16 November 2017
Published: 05 December 2017
Storme M, Çelik P, Camargo A,
Forthmann B, Holling H and Lubart T
(2017) The Effect of Forced Language
Switching during Divergent Thinking:
A Study on Bilinguals’ Originality
of Ideas. Front. Psychol. 8:2086.
The Effect of Forced Language
Switching during Divergent Thinking:
A Study on Bilinguals’ Originality
Martin Storme1*, Pinar Çelik2, Ana Camargo1, Boris Forthmann3, Heinz Holling3and
1Laboratoire Adaptations Travail Individu, Université Paris Descartes, Paris, France, 2Economics and Management, Centre
Emile Bernheim, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium, 3Department of Psychology, University of Münster,
In the present study we experimentally manipulated language switching among
bilinguals who indicated to be more or less habitual language switchers in daily life.
Our aim was to investigate the impact of forced language switching on originality of
produced ideas during divergent thinking, conditional on the level of habitual language
switching. A sample of bilinguals was randomly assigned to perform alternate uses
tasks (AUT’s), which explicitly required them to either switch languages, or to use only
one language while performing the tasks. We found that those who were instructed to
switch languages during the AUT’s were able to generate ideas that were on average
more original, than those who were instructed to use only one language during the
AUT’s, but only at higher levels of habitual language switching. At low levels of habitual
language switching, the effect reversed, and participants who were instructed to use
only one language found ideas that were on average more original, than participants
who were required to switch languages during the AUT’s. Implications and limitations
Keywords: bilingualism, language switching, divergent thinking, originality of ideas
Language switching or code switching – i.e., alternating between and mixing multiple languages
in conversation – is common practice among many bilinguals (Lin, 2013). Literature increasingly
suggests that speaking more than one language enhances general cognitive abilities, such as creative
cognition (Ricciardelli, 1992;Lee and Kim, 2011). A recent report of the European Commission
identiﬁed more than 200 articles demonstrating a connection between bilingualism and creative
potential (European Commission, 2009;Hommel et al., 2011), with recent studies suggesting a
link between language switching and creative cognition (e.g., Wei and Wu, 2009). These studies
suggest a positive relation between stable individual diﬀerences in daily language switching and
creativity. Based on these ﬁndings the question emerges whether bilinguals should be speciﬁcally
encouraged to switch languages as much as possible to be more creative. It is not known to
what extent forced language switching would be beneﬁcial to creativity, given large variations
between bilinguals regarding their daily habits of language switching. Therefore, in the current
study we experimentally manipulated language switching in an idea generation task among
bilinguals’ with varying levels of daily language switching habits, and tested the originality of
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Storme et al. Language Switching and Divergent Thinking
their ideas. As we will outline below, we reasoned that
whether forced language switching increases creativity might
crucially depend on bilinguals’ daily habits regarding language
Bilingualism, Language Switching, and
The link between bilingualism and enhanced cognitive functions
is currently a debated issue in the literature. Some studies found,
for example, that being able to speak multiple languages is not
particularly associated with enhanced cognitive executive control
functions (e.g., Paap et al., 2017;Ross and Melinger, 2017).
Other studies show that bilingualism is positively associated
with cognitive executive functions (e.g., Colzato et al., 2008;
Bialystok, 2011). For example, Bialystok and Viswanathan (2009)
showed that inhibitory control and shifting – i.e., cognitive
ﬂexibility, which is considered the result of basic cognitive
executive functions such as inhibition, updating and shifting
(Miyake et al., 2000) – were better developed in bilinguals
than in monolinguals. Carlson and Meltzoﬀ (2008) found that
early bilingual children – i.e., individuals who have two mother
tongues – compared to late bilingual and monolingual children,
outperformed the latter two groups especially in measures that
required working memory and the inhibition of distracting
In the literature, the enhanced ﬂexibility and cognitive
executive functions of bilinguals – especially of the ‘early’ ones –
is ascribed to bilinguals’ constant need to monitor and control
the non-target language when conversing, which is thought to
act as an almost constant exercise of their cognitive executive
functions (Rodriguez-Fornells et al., 2006;Ye and Zhou, 2009;
Bialystok, 2011). Indeed, for early bilinguals it seems that both
their language systems are simultaneously active as a default
(Starreveld et al., 2014). These individuals, even when speaking
one language, may think in two languages, and thus be in a more
or less continuous language switching state.
The debate on the purported advantages of bilinguals on
executive functions is paralleled in practice as well, with many
schools actively discouraging language switching, believing that it
is detrimental to group cohesion, communication and language
development (Ferguson, 2003;Wei and Wu, 2009;Lin, 2013).
Language switching seems only encouraged by educators in
speciﬁc contexts, for example when learning a second language
(Moore, 2002;Lin, 2013).
However, some authors have suggested that the increased
cognitive ﬂexibility of bilinguals has an additional beneﬁt for
the cognitive functioning of bilinguals; it is believed to stimulate
their creativity. Indeed, cognitive ﬂexibility lies at the core of the
ability to think outside of usual cognitive patterns and overcome
functional ﬁxedness (Guilford, 1967). In the literature, cognitive
ﬂexibility, and ‘out of the box thinking’ is conceptualized as
being one of the core components of creative cognition (Beghetto
and Kaufman, 2007), and several empirical studies have shown
that ﬂexibility is positively associated with creative achievement
(Carson et al., 2005).
Importantly, many studies have shown a creative advantage
of bilinguals over monolinguals, and of early bilinguals over late
bilinguals (for a review, see Kharkhurin, 2012). Bilingualism may
thus over time result in enhanced creativity – presumably fueled
by the constant cognitive monitoring of distracting language
systems which, over time, enhances cognitive ﬂexibility and
creativity (Rodriguez-Fornells et al., 2006;Ye and Zhou, 2009;
Taken together, previous literature suggests that accumulating
language switching experiences might over time have a positive
eﬀect on bilinguals’ creativity. Does this also mean that bilinguals
should be speciﬁcally encouraged to switch languages as much
as possible to be more creative? This is an important question
because it may help shape language use policies in bilingual or
multilingual schools, but also in organizations in general that seek
to improve their creative output.
We suggest that the answer to this question depends on the
extent to which individuals are used to switching languages in
daily life. Because for individuals who are used to switching
languages regularly, switching languages could be considered
their normal state, each single episode of language switching may
stimulate their creativity, while each single language use episode
may hinder their creativity. For example, Prior and Gollan (2011),
showed that bilinguals who were used to switching languages in
daily life exhibited less task switching costs than monolinguals.
The authors speculated that daily language switching may be
crucial to the advantages of bilingualism regarding general
task switching abilities. Likewise, Soveri et al. (2011), also
reported that among early bilinguals higher rates of everyday
language switches were positively associated with performance
in a set shifting task. Finally, a more recent study conducted
by Kharkhurin and Wei (2015) showed, in verbal and graphical
divergent thinking tasks, that bilinguals who switch languages
more often found more ideas and also ideas that were more
original, than their non-habitual counterparts.
For those who are less used to switching languages in their
daily life, forced episodes of language switching are likely to come
with a cognitive cost (Gollan and Ferreira, 2009), especially when
switching from L2 to L1 (Meuter and Allport, 1999;Thomas
and Allport, 2000). As a consequence, their creativity might be
hindered when being forced to switch languages.
In the present study we investigate the eﬀect of language
switching on creative production in a divergent thinking
Alternate Uses Task (AUT, Guilford, 1967). Divergent thinking
can be deﬁned as the process that allows people to generate as
many responses as possible to a given problem (Guilford, 1967).
In the AUT people are presented with an everyday object, such
as a brick, and asked to generate as many uses for the brick as
they can think of. The idea is that in divergent thinking relatively
loosely controlled, spontaneous and associative memory searches
alternate with more top–down cognitively controlled processes
for the selection of unique and creative ideas. Divergent thinking
tasks are usually scored in terms of ﬂuency (number of ideas) and
originality (uniqueness of ideas) (Mouchiroud and Lubart, 2001).
We designed a study in which we explicitly asked bilinguals,
to either use only one language in the non-switch AUT condition,
or to use both languages and alternate between them in the
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Storme et al. Language Switching and Divergent Thinking
switch AUT condition, while generating ideas on how to use
everyday objects. Participants were randomly assigned to these
conditions. We then tested the eﬀect of switching, compared to
not switching during the AUT’s, on originality of the generated
ideas. Importantly, we tested the moderating eﬀect of the level of
daily language switching on the relationship between switching
languages in the task and the originality of ideas found during the
task. We had several hypotheses. First, we expected an interaction
between the type of AUT task (switch vs. non-switch AUT) and
level of daily language switching. Speciﬁcally, we expected that
at high levels of habitual language switching, there would be
a positive eﬀect of switching languages during the task on the
originality of ideas. At low levels of habitual language switching,
we hypothesized that there would be a negative eﬀect of switching
languages during the task on the originality of ideas.
In divergent thinking tasks it is common to assess the number
or ideas, i.e., ﬂuency, in addition to the originality of ideas.
Often the two are positively correlated, and originality scores
are typically analyzed controlling for ﬂuency (Ritter et al., 2012).
Therefore, we also measured ﬂuency. Regarding this measure, we
expected that compared to the non-switch condition, the switch
condition would result in a lower the number of ideas generated
in the task, i.e., lower ﬂuency. This is because language switching
has been shown to increase the time needed to perform tasks
(Monsell, 2003), and multiple language activation reduces ﬂuency
(e.g., Bergmann et al., 2015).
MATERIALS AND METHODS
The study involved 104 participants (55 females,
Mage =21.42 years, SD =2.63) participated in the study.
All participants indicated French as their mother tongue (i.e.,
ﬁrst language, L1). Participants indicated English, Spanish,
German, or Italian as their L2. To assess the extent to which
participants engage in language switching in daily life we asked
the question: “How often do you switch back and forth to L2
(or L1), when speaking L1 (or L2).” Participants answered this
question on a six-point Likert scale ranging from Never (1),
Once a year (2), Several times a year (3), Once a month (4),
Once a week (5), Every day (6). In our sample, the average
language switching frequency was M=4.34 (SD =1.85). The
distribution was slightly platykurtic (kurtosis =2.50) and left
skewed (skewness = −0.71), meaning that there tended to be
more participants switching often, than participants switching
Divergent Thinking Tasks
Creativity was assessed with the AUT (Guilford, 1967).
Participants completed three unusual uses tasks for the following
objects: a spoon, a jump rope, and a plastic water bottle. Each task
had a duration of 2 min. Participants were randomly assigned
to one of the two conditions (Nswitch =52, Nnon -switch =52);
those in the non-switch condition were asked to complete the
AUT’s using only French (L1). Those in the switch condition were
instructed to begin by writing an idea in French, followed by
writing an idea in L2, and to keep alternating between languages
during the 2 min that each task lasted. To aid the scoring of
originality, those in the switch language condition were asked
to translate their ideas written in L2 back to French after they
were ﬁnished with all three tasks. We speciﬁcally instructed
participants to generate as many creative and unique ideas as
possible. When instructions of a divergent thinking task explicitly
ask participants to come up with many creative and unique ideas
(Forthmann et al., 2016), the task likely requires more cognitive
ﬂexibility, such as switches of search strategies and the inhibition
of unoriginal ideas, than a task in which participants are simply
asked to generate as many ideas as possible.
Originality scores were obtained via uniqueness scoring
(Mouchiroud and Lubart, 2001) for each generated use in the
AUT’s. Participants received a score of 5 for an idea when <5% of
the other participants had come up with the same idea (i.e., very
original), a 4 when approximately 10% had the same idea, a score
of 3 when 20% of the participants had written the same response,
a score of 2 when around 30% had written the same response,
a score of 1 when >50% of participants had produced the same
idea (i.e., not original at all). Furthermore, ﬂuency scores (a count
variable, summing all distinct ideas per object) were assigned to
each participant. Originality and ﬂuency scores were averaged
across all items. The reliability of the originality score (α=0.77)
and the ﬂuency score (α=0.86) was satisfactory. In our sample
the overall bivariate correlation between ﬂuency and originality
scores was 0.32, which is a common ﬁnding in the literature
(Mouchiroud and Lubart, 2001).
Participants were informed that they would be participating
in a study about the “eﬀects of diﬀerent university majors on
creativity,” without revealing the speciﬁc objective of the study.
They performed the three divergent thinking tasks always in
the same order. Additional questions including demographic
information, as well as the question about daily language
switching were presented at the end. All instructions were given
The analysis was conducted in two steps. We ﬁrst analyzed the
eﬀect of the manipulation in interaction with the extent to which
participants switch languages in daily life on ﬂuency scores. Then,
we analyzed the eﬀect of the manipulation in interaction with
the extent to which participants switch languages in daily life
on originality scores. Because we used a between-subject design,
we used multiple linear regressions to test our hypotheses. In
all analyses, quantitative predictors were normalized, and the
AUT condition was eﬀect coded as follows: −0.5 =non-switch,
A regression analysis with AUT condition and habitual language
switching as predictors of ﬂuency scores revealed a signiﬁcant
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Storme et al. Language Switching and Divergent Thinking
interaction eﬀect, B= −0.78, SE =0.33, t=2.39, p<0.05.
The interaction eﬀect is shown in Figure 1. We conducted
exploratory simple slope analyses to further investigate the
interaction eﬀect, to which we applied a Bonferroni correction
and set the signiﬁcance threshold at 0.01. We found that in the
switch condition, bilinguals who are used to switching languages
(i.e., at +2 SD from the mean) tended to have lower ﬂuency scores
than their counterparts in the non-switch condition, B= −2.95,
SE =0.71, t=−4.13, p<0.001.
Because of the correlation between ﬂuency and originality
scores (r=0.32), and because ﬂuency appeared aﬀected by
the interaction between AUT condition and level of habitual
language switching, we controlled for ﬂuency in the analyses on
Estimates of the models with (Model B) and without ﬂuency
(Model A) as a control variable are presented in Table 1. In the
following, we report analyses related to Model B.
This analysis yielded a signiﬁcant AUT condition x habitual
language switching interaction eﬀect, B=0.49, SE =0.14,
t=3.58, p<0.001. The interaction eﬀect is shown in Figure 2.
Simple slope analyses were conducted to further investigate the
1The main analysis on originality scores without ﬂuency as a control did not change
the pattern of results, but did weaken the eﬀect (see Model A in Table 1), indicating
a suppression (Hayes, 2009).
interaction eﬀect. As expected, bilinguals who switch languages
more often (i.e., at +2 SD from the mean) tended to have higher
originality scores in the switch condition, than their counterparts
in the non-switch condition, B=0.97, SE =0.32, t=3.09,
p=0.003. Bilinguals who switch languages less often (i.e., at −2
SD from the mean) tended to have lower originality scores in
the switch condition, than their counterparts in the non-switch
condition, B= −0.99, SE =0.30, t= −3.28, p=0.001.
We also proceeded to additional exploratory simple slope
analyses in order to provide a more complete description of the
interaction eﬀect. For these unplanned comparisons, we applied
a Bonferroni correction and set the signiﬁcance threshold at 0.01.
The analyses revealed that in the non-switch condition, there was
TABLE 1 | Estimates of the regression models predicting originality.
Model A Model B
B (SE) B (SE)
Intercept 4.10 (0.07)∗∗ ∗ 4.08 (0.07)∗∗ ∗
Fluency 0.27 (0.07)∗∗ ∗
AUT task (−0.5: non-switch, +0.5: switch) −0.22 (0.14) −0.01 (0.14)
Habitual language switching 0.10 (0.07) 0.13 (0.07)
AUT task ∗habitual language switching 0.37 (0.14)∗∗ 0.49 (0.14)∗∗ ∗
∗∗ p<0.01; ∗ ∗ ∗ p<0.001.
FIGURE 1 | Interaction of language switching condition and habitual language switching on ﬂuency scores. 95% conﬁdence intervals are represented by gray lines.
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Storme et al. Language Switching and Divergent Thinking
FIGURE 2 | Interaction of language switching condition and habitual language switching on originality scores, controlling for ﬂuency scores (Model B). 95%
conﬁdence intervals are represented by gray lines.
no association between habitual switching and originality scores,
B= −0.11, SE =0.09, t= −1.32, p=0.191. Only in the switch
condition, there was a positive relationship between habitual
language switching and originality scores, B=0.38, SE =0.11,
t=3.60, p<0.001. This suggests that habitual switching is only
beneﬁcial to originality in a context of active language switching.
Our aim was to investigate the eﬀect of language switching
on creative production in an AUT (Guilford, 1967) among
bilinguals. Our results indicated that the more bilingual
individuals are used to switch languages, the higher their
originality scores in the switch AUT compared to in the non-
switch AUT. Conversely, the less bilinguals are used to switch
languages, the higher their originality scores in the non-switch
AUT compared to in the switch AUT. These ﬁndings are in
line with our theoretical expectations. Language switching seems
to be better than not switching for the originality scores of
individuals who are used to switching languages in their daily life.
For bilinguals who are not used to engage in language switching,
the reverse seems to be the case, with not switching languages
during the AUT’s leading to ideas that are more original than
switching during the AUT’s.
Our study extends previous research on language switching
and creativity by using an experimental design to investigate
the eﬀect of within task language switching on the originality of
ideas. Contrary to Kharkhurin and Wei (2015), we did not ﬁnd
that bilinguals who switch languages more often in daily life ﬁnd
ideas that are more original than their counterparts in traditional
(i.e., non-switch) AUT’s. We only found an eﬀect of habitual
language switching in the switch condition. In Kharkhurin and
Wei’s (2015) study, bilinguals ﬁlled in questions about their habits
in terms of language switching prior to performing the divergent
thinking tasks. In our study, the order of tasks was reversed. It
is therefore possible that Kharkhurin and Wei’s (2015) design
activated a language switching mindset while performing the
tasks, by making participants aware of their language switching
habits. Replicating Kharkhurin and Wei’s (2015) study with a
counter-balanced design could shed light on the reasons of the
observed diﬀerences with our own ﬁndings.
An unexpected ﬁnding in our study is that ﬂuency scores
were not lower for all participants in the switch AUT compared
to the non-switch AUT. Only at higher levels of daily language
switching this eﬀect was found. This seems to refute our idea
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Storme et al. Language Switching and Divergent Thinking
that language switching overall negatively impacts ﬂuency. It
means that at higher levels of language switching in daily life,
participants in the switch AUT produced fewer ideas (than
participants in the non-switch AUT), yet their ideas were
more original on average. This is an interesting ﬁnding that
deserves further study. More speciﬁcally, one could wonder
whether participants ﬁltered out non-original ideas, whether the
originality level of each individual idea went up, or whether
both processes were combined. Additionally, our study does
not provide evidence regarding the direction of the eﬀect.
More speciﬁcally, we cannot distinguish whether creativity was
particularly stimulated, or whether it was inhibited by the (non)
To thoroughly answer these questions, further research is
needed with a design that allows the generation of more ideas –
using AUT’s in which participants have more time to generate
ideas (e.g., 10 min instead of 2 min in our study) – and
which includes a baseline condition. With a larger number of
ideas, it would be possible to examine the distribution of the
originality of ideas in the switching and non-switching AUT,
and test how the distribution of the originality of ideas among
participants who are used to switch diﬀers from the distribution
of the originality of ideas among participants who are not
used to switch. With a baseline condition, one could determine
whether language switching (vs. not switching) stimulates and/or
inhibits creativity. Nevertheless, our ﬁndings are valuable from
a practical point of view, by underlining the importance of
respecting individuals’ habitual use of their two languages. It
seems that to get the most of an individual’s creativity in the
short run it is important to put the individual in a task whose
characteristics match the individual’s habitual state regarding
Our study has other limitations. First, we did not measure the
language proﬁciency of participants. It is possible that diﬀerences
in language proﬁciency between bilinguals who switch languages
more often or bilinguals who switch languages less often could
partly explain the results we found. A second limitation is related
to the fact that we did not control for intelligence of participants.
Beaty and Silvia (2012) showed indeed that highly intelligent
individuals do not need to go through many unoriginal ideas
to arrive at more original ideas. It is therefore possible that our
results concerning ﬂuency and originality are partly due to the
fact that, by chance, participants who often switch languages
in the switch condition had a higher level of intelligence than
other participants. This is the reason why replications of our
study that control for the intelligence level of participants are
needed. A third limitation is related to the fact that bilinguals
who switch languages more often might also be more often
exposed to several cultures, in addition to purely engaging in
language switching. Being exposed to multiple cultures also
has an impact on creativity (Storme et al., 2015;Çelik et al.,
2016;Cheung et al., 2016). Exposure to multiple cultures could
therefore partly explain our results. Replicating our study while
controlling for exposure to multiple cultures could help better
delineate the relative contribution of habitual language switching
and exposure to multiculturalism to the eﬀects that we found.
A ﬁnal limitation is the fact that we used a between-subjects
design. Although the allocation of participants in the condition
was random, it is possible that participants in the switch and
the non-switch AUT conditions systematically diﬀered on some
aspects that could explain the diﬀerences that we found between
the two conditions. Using a within-subjects design would limit
the possible interferences of individual diﬀerences that we did not
control in the analyses.
Debates on bilingualism and language switching on young
bilinguals’ development and school performance may well
increase given the current societal developments of increasing
cultural and linguistic diversity at schools. Research on this
subject is thus very important. Our ﬁndings will hopefully spur
future research into investigating more in depth the eﬀects of
language switching on cognitive processes like creativity, which
have great individual and societal value.
This study was carried out in accordance with the
recommendations of Paris Descartes University with written
informed consent from all subjects.
MS, PC, AC, and BF designed the study, collected and analyzed
data, and wrote the article. HH and TL supervised the project.
This research was supported by grant ANR-13-FRAL-0017-01 of
the French National Research Agency (ANR) and by grant HO
1286/11-1 of the German Research Foundation (DFG).
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Conﬂict of Interest Statement: The authors declare that the research was
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be construed as a potential conﬂict of interest.
Copyright © 2017 Storme, Çelik, Camargo, Forthmann, Holling and Lubart. This
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Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 7December 2017 | Volume 8 | Article 2086