The impact of bilingualism on executive functions and working memory in young adults
Antón Ustaritz, Eneko
Duñabeitia, Jon Andoni
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Antón E, Carreiras M, Duñabeitia JA (2019) The impact of bilingualism on executive functions and working memory in young adults. PLoS ONE 14(2): e0206770. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0206770
A bilingual advantage in a form of a better performance of bilinguals in tasks tapping into executive function abilities has been reported repeatedly in the literature. However, recent research defends that this advantage does not stem from bilingualism, but from uncontrolled factors or imperfectly matched samples. In this study we explored the potential impact of bilingualism on executive functioning abilities by testing large groups of young adult bilinguals and monolinguals in the tasks that were most extensively used when the advantages were reported. Importantly, the recently identified factors that could be disrupting the between groups comparisons were controlled for, and both groups were matched. We found no differences between groups in their performance. Additional bootstrapping analyses indicated that, when the bilingual advantage appeared, it very often co-occurred with unmatched socio-demographic factors. The evidence presented here indicates that the bilingual advantage might indeed be caused by spurious uncontrolled factors rather than bilingualism per se. Secondly, bilingualism has been argued to potentially affect working memory also. Therefore, we tested the same participants in both a forward and a backward version of a visual and an auditory working memory task. We found no differences between groups in either of the forward versions of the tasks, but bilinguals systematically outperformed monolinguals in the backward conditions. The results are analysed and interpreted taking into consideration different perspectives in the domain-specificity of the executive functions and working memory.