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Beyond Language: The long-term benefits of multilingualism for self- regulation



The cognitive advantage (CA) hypothesis claims that multilingualism promotes the development of several basic cognitive capacities. A large number of empirical findings support this hypothesis, but recently there have also been numerous contradictory findings and methodological objections. The present paper extends the investigation of possible cognitive advantages from basic cognitive (executive) functions to broader cognitive competencies such as cognitive flexibility. A promising candidate for this is ‘flexibility of goal adjustment’ (FGA), a capacity of developmental regulation that solves problems through flexible adaptation processes. In a study with N = 119 monolingual and multilingual adults we found the predicted positive correlation between multilingualism and FGA. However, the mediator function of executive capacities entailed in the CA hypothesis operationalised as Stroop and flanker tasks could not be demonstrated.
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Beyond Language: The long-term
benefits of multilingualism for self-
Martin Koch, Werner Greve, Verena Rasche & Kristin Kersten
Hildesheim University
English Department, Psychology Department
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Presentation overview
1. Theoretical Background
2. Empirical Study
3. Discussion
4. Future Research
5. Literature
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Cognitive Advantage
Cognitive advantage (CA)
positive effects of multilingualism due to high cognitive demands (e.g.,
language switching) on basic cognitive functions
e.g., working memory or executive functions (EFs; Bialystok, 2017; Antoniou,
inconclusive results
e.g., Lehtonen et al., 2019: no systematic evidence to support the CA
hypothesis regarding executive functions
Needed: more differentiated methods, control of possible conditions
Problem: studies differ in the assessment of cognitive functions, sample sizes,
sample composition (age, multilingualism, involved languages)
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Broad Perspective on Switching and
Multilingual Advantages
socio-linguistic switching as a reason for advantages
includes switching of languages and cultural frame switching (Hong et al.,
higher mental flexibility is needed for switching between sociocultural frames
and perspectives including social etiquette, implicit and explicit rules of
behaviour, specific ways of thinking, etc.
examples for broader mental flexibility where multilinguals show advantages
Theory of Mind (e.g., Kovács, 2009; Rubio-Fernandez & Glucksberg, 2012)
Perspective Taking (Fan et al., 2015)
Divergent Thinking (e.g., Kharkhurin, 2009; Leikin, 2012)
ability to learn from new experiences and adjust behaviour accordingly
(Dewaele & Botes, 2019)
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Flexible Goal Adjustment
Flexible Goal Adjustment (FGA)
describes processes of accommodatively letting go of unreachable goals,
reorienting towards new goals, changing or broadening the perspective
conceptualised in the two-process model of developmental regulation (e.g.,
Brandtstädter & Renner, 1990)
developmental conditions (Greve & Thomsen, 2013; Thomsen & Greve 2013)
(1) Contextual conditions of individual ontogenesis of FGA
heterogeneous complex life experiences
so far, only shown for unrestricted play in childhood
(2) Cognitive conditions of FGA
EFs (some studies fail to show positive relations or show negative ones)
Divergent Thinking
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Research Questions
Does Multilingualism positively predict Flexible Goal
adjustment? Is this prediction mediated by Executive
Hypothesis 1: Multilingualism predicts FGA.
Multilingualism is a heterogeneous life experience that may promote FGA.
Hypothesis 2: The relationship between multilingualism and FGA is mediated by
If multilingualism enhances executive functions and executive functions were a
supporting or necessary condition for FGA, the assumed relation between
multilingualism and FGA may be partly mediated by executive functions.
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
data elicitation
“incidental” cross-sectional online sample
questionnaire with SoSci-Survey
standardised questionnaires
data analysis
mediation analysis with Process (Addon for SPSS)
Degree of Multilingualism as the independent variable
Executive Functions as mediator variable
Flexible Goal Adjustment as the dependent variable
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Methods - Operationalization
Degree of Multilingualism
Language and Social Background Questionnaire (Anderson et al., 2018)
self-ratings for speaking, understanding, reading, and writing for each of the
(up to) three best languages multiplied with the intensity of usage
Executive Functions
adapted Stroop (Bialystok et al., 2008) and Flanker tasks (Luk et al. , 2011)
online with SoSci-Survey: accuracy of 10 ms (Leiner, 2020)
Flexible Goal Adjustment
questionnaire (Brandtstädter & Renner, 1990)
“In general, I am not upset very long about an opportunity passed up”
“After a serious disappointment, I soon turn to new tasks”
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
N = 119
age: M= 36.4 (1979)
May to July 2019
MLC group
35 17 67
Age (years)
41.72 (16.56) 29.47 (10.83) 34.60 (15.48)
age of
acquisition L2
10.13 (1.73) 1.67 (3.20) 9.57 (3.71)
age of
acquisition L3
11.17 (3.92) 8.29 (5.25) 14.94 (7.10)
7.01 (2.19) 8.49 (1.24) 8.83 (1.29)
3.55 (1.34) 6.38 (1.82) 7.01 (1.71)
3.44 (.09) 5.63 (2.26) 4.65 (1.99)
use of 3 “best”
8.89 (3.53) 20.33 (3.49) 18.66 (3.82)
6 5.0 MM: (mainly) monolinguals
ECM: early childhood multilinguals
LCAM: late childhood and adult multilinguals
Mean (SD)
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Results: mediation
Degree of
multilingualism FGA
c’ = 0.03, p= .005
a*b = 0.00
95% CI = -0.0009, 0.0040
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Results: moderated mediation I
Degree of
multilingualism FGA
Index of moderated mediation = -0.0001
95% CI = -0.0014, 0.0019
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Results: moderated mediation II
Degree of
multilingualism FGA
c’ = .03, p= .003
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
1. The degree of multilingualism positively predicts flexible goal
2. The prediction is not mediated by executive functions. EFs are not
predicted by multilingualism and do net predict FGA.
3. The prediction is not moderated by the type of multilingualism or the
This supports the assumption that multilingualism is a
heterogeneous life experience that may promote flexible goal
The Cognitive Advantage Hypothesis is not supported.
4. The age additionally predicts FGA.
Older individuals use more FGA: less resources to reach goals
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Future Research
1. Include other conceptualisations of accommodative processes as
dependent variables.
2. Include the dimension of (multi-) cultural frame switching.
3. Divergent thinking as a possible mediator variable.
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Thank you for listening!
August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
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Bialystok, E., Craik, F., & Luk, G. (2008). Cognitive control and lexical access in younger and
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Brandtstädter, J., & Renner, G. (1990). Tenacious goal pursuit and flexible goal adjustment:
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August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
Dewaele, J.-M., & Botes, E. (2020). Does multilingualism shape personality? An exploratory
investigation. International Journal of Bilingualism, 24(4), 811823.
Fan, S. P., Liberman, Z., Keysar, B., & Kinzler, K. D. (2015). The exposure advantage: Early
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Greve, W. & Thomsen, T. (2013). Developmental Conditions of Adaptive Self-Stabilization in
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August 17th 2021 Martin J. Koch, Hildesheim
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Crises and critical life transitions activate 2 distinct but complementary modes of coping, (a) transforming developmental circumstances in accordance with personal preferences (assimilative tendency) and (b) adjusting personal preferences to situational constraints (accommodative tendency). Assimilative and accommodative tendencies were measured by a questionnaire comprising 2 independent scales (Tenacious Goal Pursuit and Flexible Goal Adjustment). Both scales predict high life satisfaction and low depression and are positively related to generalized internal control beliefs. The scales evinced an opposite relation to age: Cross-sectional analyses on a sample of 890 Ss in the age range from 34 to 63 years revealed a gradual shift from an assimilative to an accommodative mode of coping. Implications for theories of depression and successful aging are discussed.
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Bilingualism was once thought to result in cognitive disadvantages, but research in recent decades has demonstrated that experience with two (or more) languages confers a bilingual advantage in executive functions and may delay the incidence of Alzheimer's disease. However, conflicting evidence has emerged leading to questions concerning the robustness of the bilingual advantage for both executive functions and dementia incidence. Some investigators have failed to find evidence of a bilingual advantage; others have suggested that bilingual advantages may be entirely spurious, while proponents of the advantage case have continued to defend it. A heated debate has ensued, and the field has now reached an impasse. This review critically examines evidence for and against the bilingual advantage in executive functions, cognitive aging, and brain plasticity, before outlining how future research could shed light on this debate and advance knowledge of how experience with multiple languages affects cognition and the brain.
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Research examining the cognitive consequences of bilingualism has expanded rapidly in recent years and has revealed effects on aspects of cognition across the lifespan. However, these effects are difficult to find in studies investigating young adults. One problem is that there is no standard definition of bilingualism or means of evaluating degree of bilingualism in individual participants, making it difficult to directly compare the results of different studies. Here, we describe an instrument developed to assess degree of bilingualism for young adults who live in diverse but predominantly English-speaking communities. We demonstrate the reliability and validity of the instrument in analyses based on 408 participants. The relevant factors for describing degree of bilingualism are (1) the extent of non-English language proficiency and use at home, and (2) non-English language use socially. We then use the bilingualism scores obtained from the instrument to demonstrate their association with (1) performance on executive function tasks, and (2) to previous classifications of participants into categories of monolinguals and bilinguals.
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Early language exposure is essential to developing a formal language system, but may not be sufficient for communicating effectively. To understand a speaker's intention, one must take the speaker's perspective. Multilingual exposure may promote effective communication by enhancing perspective taking. We tested children on a task that required perspective taking to interpret a speaker's intended meaning. Monolingual children failed to interpret the speaker's meaning dramatically more often than both bilingual children and children who were exposed to a multilingual environment but were not bilingual themselves. Children who were merely exposed to a second language performed as well as bilingual children, despite having lower executive-function scores. Thus, the communicative advantages demonstrated by the bilinguals may be social in origin, and not due to enhanced executive control. For millennia, multilingual exposure has been the norm. Our study shows that such an environment may facilitate the development of perspective-taking tools that are critical for effective communication. © The Author(s) 2015.
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This study continues the effort to investigate the possible influence of bilingualism on an individual's creative potential. The performances of Farsi-English bilinguals living in the UAE and Farsi monolinguals living in Iran were compared on the Culture Fair Intelligence Test battery and two creativity tests: divergent thinking test (the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults) and structured imagination test (Invented Alien Creatures task). The findings of the divergent thinking test revealed that bilingualism facilitates the innovative capacity, the ability to extract novel and unique ideas, but not the generative capacity, the ability to generate and process a large number of unrelated ideas. The findings of the test of structured imagination demonstrated that bilingualism strengthens an ability to violate a standard set of category properties. In addition, the study hints at the construct validity of these two tests of creative functioning. However, the study acknowledges its rather exploratory character as the bilingual and monolingual groups might differ in a number of uncontrolled sociocultural factors that could potentially mediate the effect of bilingualism.
According to some estimates, more than half of the world’s population is multilingual to some extent. Because of the centrality of language use to human experience and the deep connections between linguistic and nonlinguistic processing, it would not be surprising to find that there are interactions between bilingualism and cognitive and brain processes. The present review uses the framework of experience-dependent plasticity to evaluate the evidence for systematic modifications of brain and cognitive systems that can be attributed to bilingualism. The review describes studies investigating the relation between bilingualism and cognition in infants and children, younger and older adults, and patients, using both behavioral and neuroimaging methods. Excluded are studies whose outcomes focus primarily on linguistic abilities because of their more peripheral contribution to the central question regarding experience-dependent changes to cognition. Although most of the research discussed in the review reports some relation between bilingualism and cognitive or brain outcomes, several areas of research, notably behavioral studies with young adults, largely fail to show these effects. These discrepancies are discussed and considered in terms of methodological and conceptual issues. The final section proposes an account based on “executive attention” to explain the range of research findings and to set out an agenda for the next steps in this field.
In a cross-sectional study with 541 German students (mean age: 12.61 yrs) and (for a subsample of N = 350) one of their parents, developmental conditions for a particular resource of self-regulation ("Flexibility of Goal Adjustment"; Brandtstädter & Renner, 1990) are investigated. Theoretical arguments and empirical results from related fields suggested in particular two sets of variables as possible predictors of adolescents' adaptive competencies. Individual aspects (students' cognitive capacities and earlier developmental stimulations) as well as external conditions (parental coping competences and parent-youth-coorientation) were assessed and included into a path model. Results suggest that both the parental variables and particular cognitive resources contribute directly to adolescents' adaptive resources, whereas earlier developmental stimulations influenced adolescents' adaptive resources in an indirect way. Suggestions for further studies were discussed with respect both to theoretical and methodological aspects. © 2013 - IOS Press and the authors.
This study is aimed at examining the possible effect of bilingualism on creativity in nonmathematical and mathematical problem solving among very young bilingual and monolingual preschoolers. An additional factor that has been considered in this study is the form of bilingual education. Accordingly, three groups of children (mean age = 45.4 months at the beginning of the study) participated in this study: (a) 13 bilingual children from a bilingual (Hebrew–Russian) kindergarten, (b) 10 bilingual children from a monolingual (Hebrew) kindergarten, and (c) 14 monolingual children (Hebrew) from a monolingual kindergarten. All children performed the Picture Multiple Solution task on general creativity and the Creating Equal Number task on mathematical creativity. The results reveal that both early bilingualism and some form of bilingual education seem to influence the children’s general and mathematical creativity. Moreover, differences between bilingual children from the bilingual kindergarten and monolingual children were more prominent (in favor of the bilinguals). In addition, the findings confirm the hypothesis concerning the differences between two types of creative ability in the context of bilingual and monolingual development.
Despite fruitful research on some aspects of adolescent coping, the development of specific coping mechanisms still remains a neglected topic. The present empirical study with 535 early adolescents (M = 12.60 years) and their parents examines possible developmental components of accommodative coping competences. Using latent path modelling, we investigated how specific components of four sets of variables (cognitive abilities, experiences in life, goal disengagement, and parental influences) contributed to accommodative coping capacities in the adolescents. Direct effects (e.g., specific cognitive abilities, parental influences) and indirect effects (e.g., positive experiences in life) on accommodative coping were identified for the components investigated. Future research should focus on the relevance of these components for the development of accommodative coping capacities.
Young English-speaking monolingual and bilingual adults were examined for English proficiency, language use history, and performance on a flanker task. The bilinguals, who were about twenty years old, were divided into two groups (early bilinguals and late bilinguals) according to whether they became actively bilingual before or after the age of ten years. Early bilinguals and monolinguals demonstrated similar levels of English proficiency, and both groups were more proficient in English than late bilinguals. In contrast, early bilinguals produced the smallest response time cost for incongruent trials (flanker effect) with no difference between monolinguals and late bilinguals. Moreover, across the whole sample of bilinguals, onset age of active bilingualism was negatively correlated with English proficiency and positively correlated with the flanker effect. These results suggest a gradient in which more experience in being actively bilingual is associated with greater advantages in cognitive control and higher language proficiency.