Ellen Bialystok's research while affiliated with University of Toronto and other places

Publications (232)

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Research on the cognitive consequences of bilingualism typically proceeds by labeling participants as “monolingual” or “bilingual” and comparing performance on some measures across these groups. It is well-known that this approach has led to inconsistent results. However, the approach assumes that there are clear criteria to designate individuals a...
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Early research that relied on standardized assessments of intelligence reported negative effects of bilingualism for children, but a study by Peal and Lambert (1962) reported better performance by bilingual than monolingual children on verbal and nonverbal intelligence tests. This outcome led to the view that bilingualism was a positive experience....
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The study followed 6-year-old children in Canadian French Immersion for three years to investigate the effect of home language background on acquisition of French, the language of schooling. None of the children knew French before beginning the program. French proficiency was indicated by French vocabulary and verbal fluency tasks. A language backg...
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It has been claimed that bilingual experience leads to an enhancement of cognitive control across the lifespan, a claim that has been investigated by comparing monolingual and bilingual groups performing standard executive function (EF) tasks. The results of these studies have been inconsistent, however, leading to controversy over the essential as...
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In the absence of effective pharmacological interventions for the prevention of dementia, attention has turned to lifestyle factors that contribute to cognitive reserve. Although cognitive reserve cannot prevent the occurrence of disease, the trajectory is different for high reserve and low reserve patients, giving more time for independent living...
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Several recent studies have used automated linguistic analysis of naturalistic speech in a picture‐description task (e.g. Cookie Theft) combined with machine learning approaches to distinguish the speech of those with dementia from healthy age‐matched controls. Extension of these techniques to predict continuous variables related to cognitive statu...
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Bilingualism has been linked to improved executive function and delayed onset of dementia, but it is unknown whether similar benefits can be obtained later in life through deliberate intervention. Given the logistical hurdles of second language acquisition in a randomized trial for older adults, few interventional studies have been done thus far. H...
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This study compared brain and behavioral outcomes for monolingual and bilingual older adults who reported no cognitive or memory problems on three types of memory that typically decline in older age, namely, working memory (measured by n-back), item, and associative recognition. The results showed that bilinguals were faster on the two-back working...
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Monolingual and bilingual participants performed a Proactive Interference task in verbal and nonverbal conditions while EEG was recorded. Behavioral results showed faster responses for bilinguals on interference trials in the nonverbal condition, and electrophysiological results indicated greater attentional control for bilinguals. ROI analyses sho...
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Some previous studies have shown that creating a language context in which words from both languages are interspersed into a flanker task improves executive control performance for bilinguals, but these studies have produced inconsistent results. The studies have used different versions of the task and not included monolinguals, limiting generaliza...
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Bilingual children typically perform more poorly than monolingual children on linguistic tasks but better than monolingual children on cognitive tasks requiring executive function. The present study examined performance on complex linguistic tasks that also required executive functioning for their solution. One hundred 4-year-olds from linguistical...
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In contrast to research that examines the effects of socioeconomic status (SES) and bilingualism on development by comparing clearly disparate groups, the present study investigated the role of subtle differences in these experiences for their joint impact on performance on a verbal fluency task and an executive function (EF) task. The study involv...
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Cognitive reserve is characterized by a dissociation between cognitive level and brain structure, thereby reducing the impact of deteriorating brain structure on cognitive function. Cognitive reserve is therefore a promising approach to maintaining cognitive function and protecting against symptoms of dementia. The present paper evaluates evidence...
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Previous studies have reported bilingualism to be a proxy of cognitive reserve (CR) based on evidence that bilinguals express dementia symptoms ~ 4 years later than monolinguals yet present with greater neuropathology at time of diagnosis when clinical levels are similar. The current study provides new evidence supporting bilingualism’s contributio...
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One approach to resolving the controversy over whether bilingualism affects executive function (EF) performance has been to identify the specific tasks and populations that might show these effects. The assumption is that the effect of bilingualism reliably occurs with some tasks and populations but not others and that identifying those conditions...
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Both bilingualism and attention contribute to the development of executive functioning (EF), with higher levels of both leading to better outcomes. The present study treats bilingualism and attention as continuous variables to investigate their impact on EF. Eighty-two 9-year-olds who were attending a French school in an anglophone community comple...
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A recent approach to explaining the domain-general cognitive outcomes of bilingualism is to consider the role of disengagement of attention, rather than the engagement of focused attention or inhibition as is typical in most accounts. The present study pursues this approach by examining the neurophysiological changes associated with disengagement o...
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Purpose: Conversion rates from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer disease (AD) were examined considering bilingualism as a measure of cognitive reserve. Methods: Older adult bilingual (n=75) and monolingual (n=83) patients attending a memory clinic who were diagnosed with MCI were evaluated for conversion to AD. Age of MCI and AD diagn...
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Both languages are jointly activated in the bilingual brain, requiring bilinguals to select the target language while avoiding interference from the unwanted language. This cross-language interference is similar to the within-language interference created by the Deese–Roediger–McDermott false memory paradigm (DRM; Roediger & McDermott, 1995, Journa...
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Aims and objectives/purpose/research questions: In early childhood and older adulthood, bilinguals generally demonstrate better performance on executive function tasks than their monolingual counterparts, but in the young adult population, these differences are infrequently observed. However, few studies have examined these effects in the adolesce...
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Numerous studies on reading comprehension with monolingual children have shown that oral language, such as vocabulary, is an important factor in predicting reading comprehension success. However, few studies have looked at the reading comprehension performance of bilinguals, and less is known about the contributors to its success, linguistic or oth...
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The potential effects of bilingualism on executive control (EC) have been heavily debated. One possible source of discrepancy in the evidence may be that bilingualism tends to be treated as a monolithic category distinct from monolingualism. We address this possibility by examining the effects of different bilingual language experiences on brain ac...
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Bilingualism is associated with enhancement of executive control (EC) across the lifespan. Working memory and non-verbal emotion regulation both draw upon EC mechanisms so may also be affected by bilingualism, but these relationships are not fully understood. These relationships were explored using an n-back task with distracting emotional stimuli...
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The importance of replication in psychology, and science more broadly, cannot be overstated given the current state of the literature. The Open Science Collaboration (2015) attempted to replicate 100 studies in three top psychology journals and found that only 36% of effects were replicated. Given this alarmingly low number of successful replicatio...
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Learning and using an additional language is shown to have an impact on the structure and function of the brain, including in regions involved in cognitive control and the connections between them. However, the available evidence remains variable in terms of the localization, extent, and trajectory of these effects. Variability likely stems from th...
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Two prominent aspects of memory problems in older adults are a difficulty in retrieving recent episodic events and an often transient inability to retrieve names and other well-known facts from semantic memory. The question addressed in the present studies was whether these age-related difficulties reflect a common cause—a retrieval problem related...
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Monolingual and bilingual young adults performed a task-switching experiment while EEG was recorded to investigate how bilingualism affects cognitive control following conflict. Participants were given pure blocks composed of three intermixed tasks, each consisting of univalent trials in which they responded to one feature of the stimulus - color,...
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Building on our earlier analysis of the factorial structure of bilingualism for young adults obtained from the Language and Social Background Questionnaire (LSBQ; Anderson, Mak, Keyvani Chahi & Bialystok, 2018), we analyzed responses from 675 children and 125 older adults to a similar questionnaire. Three factors accounting for 74% of the variance...
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Evaluation of the cognitive level of older adults, including decisions about meeting clinical thresholds for dementia, is typically based on behavioral levels of performance. However, individuals with high cognitive reserve will outperform the levels typically associated with their brain structure, providing inaccurate assessments of their status....
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Extensive work has demonstrated the benefits of bilingualism on executive functioning (EF) across the lifespan. Concurrently, other research has shown that EF is related to emotion regulation (ER), an ability that is integral to healthy socio-emotional development. However, no research to date has investigated whether bilingualism-related advantage...
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Musical training and bilingualism benefit executive functioning and working memory (WM)—however, the brain networks supporting this advantage are not well specified. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging and the n‐back task to assess WM for spatial (sound location) and nonspatial (sound category) auditory information in musician monol...
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Two studies investigated how cultural context and familiarity impact lexical access in Korean-English bilingual and English monolingual adults. ERPs were recorded while participants decided whether a word and picture matched or not. Pictures depicted versions of objects that were prototypically associated with North American or Korean culture and n...
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The idea that there is a critical period (CP) for language acquisition that starts sometime after birth and ends sometime around puberty has been central to language studies since Chomsky's paradigm shift that embedded language acquisition into human biological development (for discussion, see Bialystok & Kroll, in press). From early on, the critic...
Chapter
This chapter examines the idea that much of the confusion and contradictory evidence about the relation between bilingualism and executive function can be traced to an over-simplification of the two main terms. Using more nuanced definitions for "bilingualism" and "executive function", research examining the effect of bilingualism on cognition in i...
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Proficient bilinguals demonstrate slower lexical retrieval than comparable monolinguals. The present study tested predictions from two main accounts of this effect, the frequency-lag and competition hypotheses. Both make the same prediction for bilinguals but differ for trilinguals and for age differences. 200 younger or older adults who were monol...
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The strength of each representation in the mental lexicon depends on factors such as word frequency and conceptual concreteness. For bilinguals, each concept has two lexical representations, and so representational strength also depends on the salience of first-and second-language activation and the dominance of each language. The relative salience...
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In the alpha span test, short lists of words are presented and the participant’s task is to mentally reorder the words and give them back in correct alphabetical order. Alpha span is the longest list of words correctly recalled; the article also describes a scoring method in which credit is given for partially correct answers. Alpha span provides a...
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Bilingualism can delay the onset of dementia symptoms and has thus been characterized as a mechanism for cognitive or brain reserve, although the origin of this reserve is unknown. Studies with young adults generally show that bilingualism is associated with a strengthening of white matter, but there is conflicting evidence for how bilingualism aff...
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In a recent commentary, Goldsmith and Morton (in press) argue that the results of a study demonstrating smaller sequential congruency effects (SCEs) for bilinguals than for monolinguals (Grundy, Chung-Fat-Yim, Friesen, Mak, & Bialystok, 2017) is incorrect in its interpretation of SCEs. Moreover, their overall framework is that there is no evidence...
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The present study investigated processing differences between young adults who were English monolinguals or English-French bilinguals on a task- and language-switching paradigm. The mechanisms responsible for task switching and language switching were investigated using electrophysiological (EEG) measures. In nonverbal task switching, monolinguals...
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Objective: To conduct a literature review of the administration and scoring criteria used in normative studies of verbal fluency tests (VFT), and to propose a new model for the administration and scoring of phonological, semantic, and action VFT for use in Spanish-speakers. Methods: A literature search was performed using four databases Dialnet,...
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Brain signal complexity increases with development and is associated with better cognitive outcomes in older age. Research has also shown that bilinguals are able to stave off cognitive decline for longer periods of time than monolinguals, but no studies to date have examined whether bilinguals have more complex brain signals than monolinguals. Her...
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Given the increased influx of migrants into the European Union, the German education system is faced with catering to increasing numbers of migrant children who have already acquired a first language or multiple languages in their home countries. Helping these children successfully develop language and literacy skills in the new majority language,...
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Previous research has shown that bilinguals outperform monolinguals on a variety of tasks that have been described as involving executive functioning, but the precise mechanism for those effects or a clear definition for “executive function” is unknown. This uncertainty has led to a number of studies for which no performance difference between mono...
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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 proc...
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Three studies examined the hypothesis that bilinguals can more rapidly disengage attention from irrelevant information than monolinguals by investigating the impact of previous trial congruency on performance in a simple flanker task. In Study 1, monolingual and bilingual young adults completed two versions of a flanker task. There were no differen...
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The present paper reviews the neural correlates of cognitive control associated with bilingualism. We demonstrate that lifelong practice managing two languages orchestrates global changes to both structure and function of the brain. Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals generally show greater gray matter volume, especially in perceptual/motor region...
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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...
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Standardized neuropsychological tests are routinely used as diagnostic criteria in aging populations and are an important piece of evidence for the identification of clinical pathology and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. Tests include such measures as the Mini Mental Status Exam, Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System, Mon...
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A speech perception experiment provides evidence that the linguistic relationship between words affects the discrimination of their talkers. Listeners discriminated two talkers’ voices with various linguistic relationships between their spoken words. Listeners were asked whether two words were spoken by the same person or not. Word pairs varied wit...
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Bilingual education has been an educational option in many countries for over 50 years but it remains controversial, especially in terms of its appropriateness for all children. The present review examines research evaluating the outcomes of bilingual education for language and literacy levels, academic achievement, and suitability for children wit...
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Studies on the effect of bilingualism on executive functioning have sometimes failed to find significant differences between performance of monolingual and bilingual young adults. This paper examines the interpretation of these null findings and considers the role of three factors: definition of bilingualism, appropriateness of statistical procedur...
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This study examined executive control in sixty-two 5-year-old children who were monolingual or bilingual using behavioral and event-related potentials (ERPs) measures. All children performed equivalently on simple response inhibition (gift delay), but bilingual children outperformed monolinguals on interference suppression and complex response inhi...
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Past studies examining the cognitive function of bilingual school-aged children have pointed to enhancements in areas of executive control relative to age-matched monolingual children. The majority of these studies has tested children from a middle-class background and compared performance of bilinguals as a discrete group against monolinguals. The...
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Studies across the lifespan have revealed modifications in executive control (EC) from bilingualism, but studies of working memory (WM), a key aspect of EC, have produced varied results. Healthy older ( M = 71.0 years) and younger participants ( M = 21.1 years) who were monolingual or bilingual, performed working memory tasks that varied in their d...
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Attention difficulty is associated with poor performance on executive functioning (EF) tasks, yet EF is enhanced in bilingual children. However, no research to date has investigated the possible interaction between bilingualism and attention ability in children to determine the consequences for EF when both are present. We assessed a sample of typi...
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The current study investigated how language experience impacts phonologically-mediated meaning activation. Monolinguals and bilinguals made living/non-living judgments on English homophones (e.g., beech, beach) while Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) were recorded. Context was manipulated by making the preceding trial either unrelated (e.g., servant...
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One hundred and sixty-eight young adult participants were classified as monolingual or bilingual and as having a previously reported clinical diagnosis of ADHD or not to create four groups. All participants completed tests of language proficiency, ADHD ratings, and executive control. Both bilingualism and ADHD are generally associated with poorer v...
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Attention is required during speech perception to focus processing resources on critical information. Previous research has shown that bilingualism modifies attentional processing in nonverbal domains. The current study used event-related potentials to determine whether bilingualism also modifies auditory attention during speech perception. We meas...
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Garcia-Penton, Fernandez Garcia, Costello, Dunabeitia, and Carreiras [The neuroanatomy of bilingualism: How to turn a hazy view into the full picture. Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience, doi: 10.1080/23273798.2015.1068944.] review studies that have compared structural imaging analyses of monolinguals and bilinguals to determine if there is a sys...
Chapter
In spite of early warnings of dire consequences of bilingualism for children's cognitive development, research in the past 50 years has revealed that bilingualism is in fact a positive developmental experience. These benefits were more recently shown to extend across the life span. New research is incorporating neuroimaging to determine the brain b...
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The Breakfast Task (Craik & Bialystok, 2006) is a computerized task that simulates the planning and monitoring requirements involved in cooking breakfast, an everyday activity important for functional independence. In Experiment 1, 28 adults performed the Breakfast Task, and outcome measures were examined with principal component analysis to elucid...
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In this article, I review research examining the effect of bilingualism on children's cognitive development and in particular, executive function. I describe studies reporting bilingual advantages in various tasks to identify the process or component of executive function that might be responsible for this bilingual advantage, discussing several po...
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Objective. Bilingualism has been shown to benefit executive function (EF) and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This study aims at examining whether a bilingual advantage applies to EF in Parkinson’s disease (PD). Method. In a cross-sectional outpatient cohort of monolingual English ( n = 57 ) and bilingual Welsh/English ( n = 46 ) speakers...
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The verbal fluency task is a widely used neuropsychological test of word retrieval efficiency. Both category fluency (e.g., list animals) and letter fluency (e.g., list words that begin with F) place demands on semantic memory and executive control functions. However letter fluency places greater demands on executive control than category fluency,...
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Lifelong bilingualism is associated with the delayed diagnosis of dementia, suggesting bilingual experience is relevant to brain health in aging. While the effects of bilingualism on cognitive functions across the lifespan are well documented, less is known about the neural substrates underlying differential behavior. It is clear that bilingualism...
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Many bilinguals routinely switch between their languages, yet mixed evidence exists about the transfer of language switching skills to broader domains that require attentional control such as task switching. Monolingual and bilingual young adults performed a nonverbal task-switching paradigm in which they viewed colored pictures of animals and indi...
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A growing body of research has reported a bilingual advantage in performance on executive control tasks, but it is not known at what point in emerging bilingualism these advantages first appear. The present study investigated the effect of early stage second-language training on executive control. Monolingual English-speaking students were tested o...
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The observation of a bilingual advantage in executive control tasks involving inhibition and management of response conflict suggests that being bilingual might contribute to increased cognitive reserve. In support of this, recent evidence indicates that bilinguals develop Alzheimer's disease (AD) later than monolinguals, and may retain an advantag...