Do bilingual children have an executive function advantage? Results from inhibition, shifting, and updating tasks

Genesis D. Arizmendi, Mary Alt, Shelley Gray, Tiffany P. Hogan, Samuel Green, Nelson Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

7 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine differences in performance between monolingual and Spanish–English bilingual second graders (aged 7–9 years old) on executive function tasks assessing inhibition, shifting, and updating to contribute more evidence to the ongoing debate about a potential bilingual executive function advantage. Method: One hundred sixty-seven monolingual English-speaking children and 80 Spanish–English bilingual children were administered 7 tasks on a touchscreen computer in the context of a pirate game. Bayesian statistics were used to determine if there were differences between the monolingual and bilingual groups. Additional analyses involving covariates of maternal level of education and nonverbal intelligence, and matching on these same variables, were also completed. Results: Scaled-information Bayes factor scores more strongly favored the null hypothesis that there were no differences between the bilingual and monolingual groups on any of the executive function tasks. For 2 of the tasks, we found an advantage in favor of the monolingual group. Conclusions: If there is a bilingual advantage in school-aged children, it is not robust across circumstances. We discuss potential factors that might counteract an actual advantage, including task reliability and environmental influences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)356-378
Number of pages23
JournalLanguage, speech, and hearing services in schools
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2018


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing

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