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Meta-Analysis Reveals a Bilingual Advantage That Is Dependent on Task and Age

  • Ware, Anna T.
  • Kirkovski, Melissa
  • Lum, Jarrad A. G.
Published Article
Frontiers in Psychology
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
Jul 24, 2020
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01458
PMID: 32793026
PMCID: PMC7394008
PubMed Central


Debate continues on whether a bilingual advantage exists with respect to executive functioning. This report synthesized the results of 170 studies to test whether the bilingual advantage is dependent on the task used to assess executive functioning and the age of the participants. The results of the meta-analyses indicated that the bilingual advantage was both task- and age-specific. Bilinguals were significantly faster than monolinguals (Hedges' g values ranged from 0.23 to 0.34), and significantly more accurate than monolinguals (Hedges' g values ranged between 0.18 and 0.49) on four out of seven tasks. Also, an effect of age was found whereby the bilingual advantage was larger for studies comprising samples aged 50-years and over (Hedges' g = 0.49), compared to those undertaken with participants aged between 18 and 29 years (Hedges' g = 0.12). The extent to which the bilingual advantage might be due to publication bias was assessed using multiple methods. These were Egger's Test of Asymmetry, Duval and Tweedie's Trim and Fill, Classic Fail-Safe N , and PET-PEESE. Publication bias was only found when using Egger's Test of Asymmetry and PET-PEESE method, but not when using the other methods. This review indicates that if bilingualism does enhance executive functioning, the effects are modulated by task and age. This may arise because using multiple languages has a highly specific effect on executive functioning which is only observable in older, relative to younger, adults. The finding that publication bias was not uniformly detected across the different methods raises questions about the impact that unpublished (or undetected) studies have on meta-analyses of this literature.

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