Linguistics and English Language

Bilingualism and Developmental Linguistics research group

Speaker: Camilla Masullo (University Rovira i Virgili, in Catalunya, Spain). Work by Camilla Masullo, Vittoria Dentella, and Evelina Leivada.

Title: A systematic review on the origin of bilingualism effects on cognition

Abstract: Two ongoing debates surround bilingual adaptations on cognition. The former concerns the type of effect (Treccani & Mulatti, 2015 inter alia) and can be analyzed in terms of three outcomes: positive, negative, and null. The status of the latter, which concerns the origin of bilingual adaptations, is less clear. While many studies recognize some interaction between cognitive factors and social factors (Garraffa et al., 2015; Antón et al., 2019 inter alia), these observations are often made in passing. Consequently, it has not been yet determined what degree of the reported bilingual adaptations derives predominantly from sociolinguistic factors.

Our work addresses this question through a systematic review of 368 studies, 474 experiments, and 109.604 participants, following the PRISMA Statement (Liberati et al., 2009). Our results showed that 73.41% of studies reporting bilingual adaptations attribute them either to sociolinguistic factors alone or to the interaction of sociolinguistic factors with cognitive factors. Furthermore, data analysis revealed that studies that find bilingual disadvantages are more likely to attribute them to sociolinguistic factors, while studies that find bilingual advantages tend to link them to a cognitive origin.

Our findings show the importance of developing a detailed sociolinguistic theory of bilingual effects on cognition. By embracing a social-oriented perspective, research in the field of bilingualism can enhance its explanatory power by delving into the intricate web of sociolinguistic and environmental factors that define the bilingual experience, thus acknowledging the nuanced and gradient nature of bilingualism.


  • Antón, E., Carreiras, M., & Duñabeitia, J.A. (2019). The impact of bilingualism on executive functions and working memory in young adults. PLOS ONE, 14(2): e0206770.
  • Garraffa, M., Beveridge, M., & Sorace, A. (2015). Linguistic and Cognitive Skills in Sardinian-Italian Bilingual Children. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1898.
  • Liberati, A., Altman, D. G., Tetzlaff, J., Murlow, C., Gøtzsche, P. C., Ioannidis, J. P. A., Clarke, M., Devereaux, P.J., Kleijnen, J. & Moher, D. (2009). The PRISMA statement for reporting systematic reviews and meta-analyses of studies that evaluate health care interventions: explanation and elaboration. PLoS Medicine, 6(7).
  • Treccani, B., & Mulatti, C. (2015). No matter who, no matter how… and no matter whether the white matter matters. Why theories of bilingual advantage in executive functioning are so difficult to falsify. Cortex, 73, 349-351.


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Nov 06 2023 -

Bilingualism and Developmental Linguistics research group

2023-11-06: A systematic review on the origin of bilingualism effects on cognition

Room 7.01, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AD