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Positive Cognitive Effects of Bilingualism and Multilingualism on Cerebral Function: a Review


A review of the current literature regarding bilingualism demonstrates that bilingualism is linked to higher levels of controlled attention and inhibition in executive control and can protect against the decline of executive control in aging by contributing to cognitive reserve. Bilinguals may also have smaller vocabulary size and slower lexical retrieval for each language. The joint activation theory is proposed to explain these results. Older trilingual adults experience more protection against cognitive decline and children and young adults showed similar cognitive advantages to bilinguals in inhibitory control. Second language learners do not yet show cognitive changes associated with multilingualism. The Specificity Principle states that the acquisition of multiple languages is moderated by multiple factors and varies between experiences. Bilingualism and multilingualism are both associated with immigration but different types of multilingualism can develop depending on the situation. Cultural cues and language similarity also play a role in language switching and multiple language acquisition.

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Correspondence to Cibel Quinteros Baumgart.

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Cibel Quinteros Baumgart declares that she has no conflict of interest. Stephen Bates Billick declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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Quinteros Baumgart, C., Billick, S.B. Positive Cognitive Effects of Bilingualism and Multilingualism on Cerebral Function: a Review. Psychiatr Q 89, 273–283 (2018).

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  • Bilingualism
  • Trilingualism
  • Multilingualism
  • Cerebral function
  • Cognitive function
  • Cultural effects