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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01818

The importance of socioeconomic status as a modulator of the bilingual advantage in cognitive ability

  • 1Institute of Education, University College London, United Kingdom
  • 2Anglia Ruskin University, United Kingdom

Between-group variability in socioeconomic status (SES) has been identified as a potentially important contributory factor in studies reporting cognitive advantages in bilinguals over monolinguals (the so called ‘bilingual advantage’). The present study addresses the potential importance of this alternative explanatory variable in a study of low and high SES bilingual and monolingual performance on the Simon task and the Tower of London task. Results indicated an overall bilingual response time advantage on the Simon task, despite equivalent error rates. Socio-economic status was an important modulator in this effect, with evidence that bilingualism may be particularly important in promoting speed of processing advantages in low status individuals but have little impact in high status individuals. However, there was a monolingual advantage on the Tower of London test of executive planning ability. Together, our findings run counter to the central assertion of the bilingual advantage account, that the process of multi-language acquisition confers a broad cognitive advantage in executive function. We discuss these findings in the context of socio-economic status as an important modulator in published studies advocating a bilingual cognitive advantage.

Keywords: bilingual advantage, socio-economic status (SES), Executive Function, Demographics, simon task, Tower of London

Received: 25 Jun 2018; Accepted: 06 Sep 2018.

Edited by:

Anatoliy V. Kharkhurin, American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Reviewed by:

Miriam Gade, Medical School Berlin, Germany
Francesca M. Branzi, University of Manchester, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2018 Naeem, Filippi, Periche-Tomas, Papageorgiou and Bright. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Peter Bright, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, United Kingdom, peter.bright@anglia.ac.uk