Research Topic

New Approaches To How Bilingualism Shapes Cognition And The Brain Across The Lifespan: Beyond The False Dichotomy Of Advantage Versus No Advantage

About this Research Topic

For much of the twentieth century, bilingualism was thought to result in cognitive disadvantages. But research in recent decades has demonstrated that experience with two (or more) languages confers a bilingual advantage in executive functions and may delay the expression of symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease However, conflicting evidence has emerged, with certain research groups consistently find support for a bilingual advantage, while other groups consistently find none, and this has led to questions concerning the robustness of the advantage claims. Some have even suggested that bilingual advantages may be entirely spurious. A heated debate has ensued, and the field has now reached an impasse. New approaches are needed, that move beyond the traditional perception of bilingualism as a binary variable and take into account the non-static nature of these effects.

This Research Topic seeks to move beyond these entrenched positions. We see an opportunity for ambitious and rigorous studies to advance understanding of how experience with multiple languages interacts with other variables to alter cognition, affect aging, and change the structure and function of the brain. Detailed theoretical models are needed that put forth a priori testable predictions concerning which types of bilingual experiences are more likely to show plasticity effects in a given domain and which are less likely. To achieve this, it is necessary to pay attention to methodological nuances in experimental designs, such as differences in tasks used and in the components of cognition they measure. By focusing on these aspects of research design, we believe that it is possible to systematically advance knowledge of how bilingualism affects cognition and the brain.

Research in the past two decades has shown that the experience of bi/multilingualism can affect language processing, domain-general cognition, and the underlying brain architecture. Nevertheless, the inconsistencies in the evidence, which partly stem from differences in methodologies as well as broad and inconsistent definitions of bilingualism, have meant that the field of bilingualism has been locked in a stalemate over whether bilingualism yields cognitive advantages. In order to advance knowledge beyond the binary of advantage versus no advantage, new approaches are needed that take into account nuanced experiences and individual differences related to bilingualism and that use a variety of innovative methodological techniques. In this Research Topic, we invite ambitious and rigorous theoretical or empirical papers that seek to advance understanding of how experience with acquisition and use of more than one language interacts with other variables to shape cognition and brain structure and function. We invite submissions using behavioral and/or neuroimaging approaches across the lifespan and studied with cross-sectional or longitudinal designs and we particularly welcome submissions focusing on development and healthy ageing and neurodegeneration. Review articles and meta-analyses of the literature are also welcomed.


Keywords: Bilingualism, cognition, lifespan, development, disorder, ageing


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

For much of the twentieth century, bilingualism was thought to result in cognitive disadvantages. But research in recent decades has demonstrated that experience with two (or more) languages confers a bilingual advantage in executive functions and may delay the expression of symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease However, conflicting evidence has emerged, with certain research groups consistently find support for a bilingual advantage, while other groups consistently find none, and this has led to questions concerning the robustness of the advantage claims. Some have even suggested that bilingual advantages may be entirely spurious. A heated debate has ensued, and the field has now reached an impasse. New approaches are needed, that move beyond the traditional perception of bilingualism as a binary variable and take into account the non-static nature of these effects.

This Research Topic seeks to move beyond these entrenched positions. We see an opportunity for ambitious and rigorous studies to advance understanding of how experience with multiple languages interacts with other variables to alter cognition, affect aging, and change the structure and function of the brain. Detailed theoretical models are needed that put forth a priori testable predictions concerning which types of bilingual experiences are more likely to show plasticity effects in a given domain and which are less likely. To achieve this, it is necessary to pay attention to methodological nuances in experimental designs, such as differences in tasks used and in the components of cognition they measure. By focusing on these aspects of research design, we believe that it is possible to systematically advance knowledge of how bilingualism affects cognition and the brain.

Research in the past two decades has shown that the experience of bi/multilingualism can affect language processing, domain-general cognition, and the underlying brain architecture. Nevertheless, the inconsistencies in the evidence, which partly stem from differences in methodologies as well as broad and inconsistent definitions of bilingualism, have meant that the field of bilingualism has been locked in a stalemate over whether bilingualism yields cognitive advantages. In order to advance knowledge beyond the binary of advantage versus no advantage, new approaches are needed that take into account nuanced experiences and individual differences related to bilingualism and that use a variety of innovative methodological techniques. In this Research Topic, we invite ambitious and rigorous theoretical or empirical papers that seek to advance understanding of how experience with acquisition and use of more than one language interacts with other variables to shape cognition and brain structure and function. We invite submissions using behavioral and/or neuroimaging approaches across the lifespan and studied with cross-sectional or longitudinal designs and we particularly welcome submissions focusing on development and healthy ageing and neurodegeneration. Review articles and meta-analyses of the literature are also welcomed.


Keywords: Bilingualism, cognition, lifespan, development, disorder, ageing


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2021 Abstract
31 January 2022 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2021 Abstract
31 January 2022 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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