Graduation Year

2015

Date of Submission

4-2015

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Psychology

Reader 1

Professor Alison Harris

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© 2015 Kelly J. Chan

Abstract

With the growing prevalence of bilingualism in modern society, it has become increasingly important to understand how the ability to speak more than one language affects cognitive function across the lifespan. Although bilingualism has been associated with disadvantages in measures of language use, bilinguals appear to demonstrate superior executive functioning compared to monolinguals. This “bilingual advantage” has been found for several aspects of cognitive control, including attention, inhibition and conflict resolution. Based on the overlap between cognitive networks and brain regions affected by aging, it has been further proposed that cognitive control—and by extension, bilingualism—confers protective effects against cognitive decline associated with natural aging. Here, we review the behavioral performance of bilinguals on linguistic and cognitive control measures, as well as evaluating information on the neural correlates of bilingualism and its relation to cognitive control and cognitive decline. An assessment of the present literature suggests that, compared to monolingual performance, the bilingual advantage in cognitive control carries over to a reasonable protective effect against cognitive decline. However, the lack of integrated research in the field demonstrates a need for further exploration of the specific facets of bilingualism, its potential significance for neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease), and the role of bilingualism in cognitive reserve.

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