Ecological Validity in Bilingualism Research and the Bilingual Advantage

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Traditional research in bilingualism has consistently found that switching languages is effortful, placing demands on neural systems of cognitive control. This finding runs counter to most bilinguals’ intuitive experience. We review a body of recent work showing that, in fact, when bilinguals switch languages voluntarily, both the behavioral cost of switching and the associated recruitment of cognitive control areas are greatly reduced or completely eliminated. This suggests that switching languages is not inherently effortful, but rather, particular communicative demands may make it costly. The new evidence also challenges the basic premise underlying the bilingual advantage hypothesis. We articulate a more nuanced version of it, in which the advantage is limited to bilinguals who frequently switch languages based on external constraints.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1117-1126
Number of pages10
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • bilingual language control
  • conversational context
  • executive control
  • language switching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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