Hostname: page-component-8448b6f56d-qsmjn Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-23T07:45:03.981Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

A bilingual advantage in task switching*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 December 2009

Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, University of Haifa
Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University
Address for Correspondence: Anat Prior, Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, Faculty of Education, University of Haifa,


This study investigated the possibility that lifelong bilingualism may lead to enhanced efficiency in the ability to shift between mental sets. We compared the performance of monolingual and fluent bilingual college students in a task-switching paradigm. Bilinguals incurred reduced switching costs in the task-switching paradigm when compared with monolinguals, suggesting that lifelong experience in switching between languages may contribute to increased efficiency in the ability to shift flexibly between mental sets. On the other hand, bilinguals did not differ from monolinguals in the differential cost of performing mixed-task as opposed to single-task blocks. Together, these results indicate that bilingual advantages in executive function most likely extend beyond inhibition of competing responses, and encompass flexible mental shifting as well.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



The authors thank Anna Guitchounts for impeccable data collection and coding, Giora Unger for programming assistance, Nick Yeung and Hagit Magen for helpful discussions, and Tamar Degani, Dave Plaut, Ellen Bialystok, Albert Costa, Addie Johnson and Andrea Philipp for comments on a previous version of the manuscript. AP was funded by post-doctoral NRSA F32HD049255.


Abutalebi, J. & Green, D. (2007). Bilingual language production: The neurocognition of language representation and control. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 20, 242275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Allport, D. A., Styles, E. A. & Hsieh, S. (1994). Shifting intentional set: Exploring the dynamic control of tasks. In Umilta, C. & Moscovitch, M. (eds.), Attention and performance XV: Conscious and nonconscious information processing, pp. 421452. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Allport, D. A. & Wylie, G. (1999). Task-switching: Positive and negative priming of task-set. In Humphreys, G. M., Duncan, J., & Treisman, A. M. (eds.), Attention, space, and action: Studies in cognitive neuroscience, pp. 273296. London: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Allport, D. A. & Wylie, G. (2000). Task-switching, stimulus–response bindings, and negative priming. In Monsell, S. & Driver, J. S. (eds.), Attention and performance XVIII: Control of cognitive processes, pp. 3570. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.Google Scholar
Bialystok, E. (2006). Effect of bilingualism and computer video game experience on the Simon task. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60, 6879.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bialystok, E. (2009). Bilingualism: The good, the bad and the indifferent. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12, 311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Klein, R. & Viswanathan, M. (2004). Bilingualism, aging and cognitive control: Evidence from the Simon task. Psychology and Aging, 19, 290303.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M. & Luk, G. (2008). Cognitive control and lexical access in younger and older bilinguals. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 34, 859873.Google ScholarPubMed
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M. & Ruocco, A. C. (2006). Dual-modality monitoring in a classification task: The effects of bilingualism and ageing. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59, 19681983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bialystok, F., Craik, F. I. M. & Ryan, J. (2006). Executive control in a modified antisaccade task: Effects of aging and bilingualism. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 32, 13411354.Google Scholar
Bialystok, E. & Martin, M. (2004). Attention and inhibition in bilingual children: Evidence from the dimensional change card sort task. Developmental Science, 7, 325339.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bialystok, E., Martin, M. & Viswanathan, M. (2005). Bilingualism across the lifespan: The rise and fall of inhibitory control. International Journal of Bilingualism, 9, 103119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bialystok, E. & Shapero, D. (2005). Ambiguous benefits: The effect of bilingualism on reversing ambiguous figures. Developmental Science, 8, 595604.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bialystok, E. & Viswanathan, M. (2004). Effects of aging and bilingualism on task switching. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Minneapolis, MN.Google Scholar
Botvinick, M., Braver, T. S., Yeung, N., Ullsperger, M., Carter, C. S. & Cohen, J. D. (2004). Conflict monitoring: Computational and empirical studies. In Posner, M. I. (ed.), The Cognitive Neuroscience of Attention, pp. 91104. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
Braver, T. S., Reynolds, J. R. & Donaldson, D. I. (2003). Neural mechanisms of transient and sustained cognitive control during task-switching. Neuron, 39, 713726.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bryck, R. L. & Mayr, U. (2008). Task selection cost asymmetry without task switching. Psychological Bulletin and Review, 15, 128134.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Carlson, S. M. & Meltzoff, A. N. (2008). Bilingual experience and executive functioning in young children. Developmental Science, 11, 282298.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Colzato, L. S., Bajo, M. T., Wildenberg, W. V. D., Paolieri, D., Nieuwenhuis, S., La Heij, W. & Hommel, B. (2008). How does bilingualism improve executive control? A comparison of active and reactive inhibition mechanisms. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 34, 302312.Google ScholarPubMed
Conway, A. R. A., Kane, M. J., Bunting, M. F., Hambrick, D. Z., Wilhelm, O. & Engle, R. W. (2005). Working memory span tasks: A methodological review and a user's guide. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 12, 769786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Costa, A. (2005). Lexical access in bilingual production. In Kroll, J. F. & Groot, A. M. B. De (eds.), Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches, pp. 308325. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Costa, A., Hernández, M. & Sebastián-Galles, N. (2008). Bilingualism aids conflict resolution: Evidence from the ANT task. Cognition, 106, 5986.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Costa, A. & Santesteban, M. (2004). Lexical access in bilingual speech production: Evidence from language switching in highly proficient bilinguals and L2 learners. Journal of Memory and Language, 50, 491511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Costa, A., Santesteban, M. & Ivanova, I. (2006). How do highly proficient bilinguals control their lexicalization process? Inhibitory and language-specific selection mechanisms are both functional. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 32, 10571074.Google ScholarPubMed
Dijkstra, T. (2005). Bilingual visual word recognition and lexical access. In Kroll, J. F. & Groot, A. M. B. De (eds.), Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches, 179201. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Dove, A., Pollmann, S., Schubert, T., Wiggins, C. J. & von Cramon, D. Y. (2000). Prefrontal cortex activation in task switching: An event-related fMRI study. Cognitive Brain Research. 9 (1), 103109.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dunn, L. M. & Dunn, L. M. (1997). The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test–Third Edition. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
Friedman, N. P. & Miyake, A. (2004). The relations among inhibition and interference control functions: A latent-variable analysis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 133, 101135.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Friedman, N. P., Miyake, A., Corley, R. P., Young, S. E., DeFries, J. C. & Hewitt, J. K. (2006). Not all executive functions are related to intelligence. Psychological Science, 17, 172179.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Green, D. W. (1998). Mental control of the bilingual lexico-semantic system. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1, 6781.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hernández, A. E., Martinez, A. & Kohnert, K. (2000). In search of the language switch: An fMRI study of picture naming in Spanish–English bilinguals. Brain and Language, 73, 421431.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hernández, A. E., Dapretto, M., Mazziotta, J. & Bookheimer, S. (2001). Language switching and language representation in Spanish–English bilinguals: An fMRI study. NeuroImage, 14, 510520.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jackson, G. M., Swainson, R., Cunnington, R. & Jackson, S. R. (2001). ERP correlates of executive control during repeated language-switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 4, 169178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Khateb, A., Abutalebi, J., Michel, C. M., Pegna, A. J., Lee-Jahnke, H. & Annoni, J.-M. (2007). Language selection in bilinguals: A spatio-temporal analysis of electric brain activity. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 65, 201213.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Koch, I., Prinz, W. & Allport, A. (2005). Involuntary retrieval in alphabet-arithmatic tasks: Task-mixing and task-switching costs. Psychological Research, 69, 252261.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kray, J. & Lindenberger, U. (2000). Adult age differences in task switching. Psychology and Aging, 15, 126147.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kray, J., Li, K. Z. H. & Lindenberger, U. (2002). Age related changes in task switching components: The role of task uncertainty. Brain and Cognition, 49, 363381.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kroll, J. F., Bobb, C. & Wodniecka, Z. (2006). Language selectivity is the exception not the rule: Arguments against a fixed locus of language selection in bilingual speech. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9, 111135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kroll, J. F. & De Groot, A. M. B. (eds.) (2005). Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
La Heij, W. (2005). Selection processes in monolingual and bilingual lexical access. In Kroll, J. F. & Groot, A. M. B. De (eds.), Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches, 289307. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
MacWhinney, B. (2005). A unified model of language acquisition. In Kroll, J. F. & De Groot, A. M. B. (eds.), Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches, pp. 4967. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Martin-Rhee, M. M. & Bialystok, E. (2008). The development of two types of inhibitory control in monolingual and bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 11, 8193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mayr, U. (2001). Age differences in the selection of mental sets: The role of inhibition, stimulus ambiguity, and response-set overlap. Psychology and Aging, 16, 96109.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mayr, U. & Kliegl, R. (2000). Task-set switching and long term memory retrieval. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 26, 11241140.Google ScholarPubMed
Mayr, U. & Kliegl, R. (2003). Differential effects of cue changes and task changes on task-set selection costs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 29, 362372.Google ScholarPubMed
Meiran, N. (1996). Reconfiguration of processing mode prior to task performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 22, 14231442.Google Scholar
Meiran, N., Chorev, Z. & Sapir, A. (2000). Component processes in task switching. Cognitive Psychology, 41, 211253.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Meiran, N., Hommel, B., Bibi, U. & Lev, I. (2002). Consciousness and control in task switching. Consciousness and Cognition: An International Journal, 11, 1033.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Meuter, R. (2005). Language selection in bilinguals: Mechanisms and processes. In Kroll, J. F. & De Groot, A. M. B. (eds.), Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches, pp. 349370. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Meuter, R. & Allport, A. (1999). Bilingual language switching in naming: Asymmetrical costs of language selection. Journal of Memory and Language, 40, 2540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miyake, A., Friedman, N. P., Emerson, M. J., Witzki, A. H., Howerter, A. & Wager, T. D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology, 41, 49100.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Monsell, S. (2003). Task switching. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7, 134140.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Monsell, S., Yeung, N. & Azuma, R. (2000). Reconfiguration of task-set: Is it easier to switch to the weaker task? Psychological Research, 63, 250264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Norman, D. A. & Shallice, T. (1986). Attention in action: Willed and automatic control of behavior. In Davidson, R. J., Schwartz, G. E., & Shapiro, D. (eds.), Consciousness and self-regulation, Vol. 4, pp. 118. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
O'Grady, W. (2005). Syntactic carpentry: An emergentist approach to syntax. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Philipp, A. M., Kalinich, C., Koch, I. & Schubotz, R. I. (2008). Mixing costs and switch costs when switching stimulus dimensions in serial predictions. Psychological Research, 72, 405414.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Reimers, S. & Maylor, E. A. (2005). Task switching across the life span: Effects of age on general and specific switch costs. Developmental Psychology, 41, 661671.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rodriguez-Fornells, A., Van Der Lugt, A., Rotte, M., Britti, B., Heinze, H. J. & Munte, T. F. (2005). Second language interferes with word production in fluent bilinguals: Brain potential and functional imaging evidence. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 17, 422433.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rogers, R. D. & Monsell, S. (1995). Costs of a predictable switch between simple cognitive tasks. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 124, 207231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rubin, O. & Meiran, N. (2005). On the origins of the task mixing cost in the cued task switching paradigm. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 31, 14771491.Google Scholar
Rubinstein, J. S., Meyer, D. E. & Evans, J. E. (2001). Executive control of cognitive processes in task switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 27, 763797.Google ScholarPubMed
Shallice, T. & Burgess, P. W. (1996) The domain of supervisory processes and the temporal organisation of behaviour. In Roberts, A. C., Robbins, T. W. and Weiskrantz, L. (eds.), The prefrontal cortex: Executive and cognitive functions, pp. 2235. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Spivey, M. & Marian, V. (1999). Cross talk between native and second languages: Partial activation of an irrelevant lexicon. Psychological Science, 10, 281284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Turner, M. L. & Engle, R. W. (1989). Is working memory capacity task dependent? Journal of Memory and Language, 28, 127154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
van Heuven, W. J. B., Schriefers, H., Dijkstra, T. & Hagoort, P. (2008). Language conflict in the bilingual brain. Cerebral Cortex, 18, 27062716.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Viswanathan, M. & Bialystok, E. (2007). Exploring the bilingual advantage in executive control: The role of expectancies. Poster presented at the 6th International Symposium on Bilingualism, Hamburg, Germany.Google Scholar
Wager, T. D., Jonides, J., Smith, E. E. & Nichols, T. E. (2005). Toward a taxonomy of attention shifting: Individual differences in fMRI during multiple shift types. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 5, 127143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wager, T. D., Jonides, J. & Smith, E. E. (2006). Individual differences in multiple types of shifting attention. Memory and Cognition, 34, 17301743.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Wang, Y., Xue, G., Chen, C., Xue, F. & Dong, Q. (2007). Neural basis of asymmetric language switching in second-language learners: an ER-fMRI study. NeuroImage, 35, 862870.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yeung, N. & Monsell, S. (2003). The effects of recent practice on task switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 29, 919936.Google ScholarPubMed
Zelazo, P. D., Resnick, J. S. & Pinon, D. E. (1995). Response control and the execution of verbal rules. Developmental Psychology, 31, 508517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar