Our Research


Bilingualism and Cognitive Development

These studies examine the effect of bilingualism on a variety of aspects of cognitive development for children between the ages of approximately 4 and 8 years old. Our research has shown that bilingual children have more advanced ability to solve problems in which there is misleading perceptual information than comparable monolingual children who are otherwise at about the same developmental stage. This processing advantage has been shown across a wide range of problem types, including both verbal and nonverbal domains. The results point to a pervasive influence of an experiential factor on the course of cognitive development.

Sample articles:

Barac, R., Moreno, S., & Bialystok, E. (2016). Behavioral and electrophysiological differences in executive control between monolingual and bilingual children. Child Development, 87, 1277-1290. PDF

Sullivan, M.D., Prescott, Y., Goldberg, D., & Bialystok, E. (2016). Executive control processes in verbal and nonverbal working memory: The role of aging and bilingualism. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 6, 147-170. PDF

Calvo, A., & Bialystok, E. (2014). Independent effects of bilingualism and socioeconomic status on language ability and executive functioning. Cognition, 130, 278-288. PDF



Acquisition of Literacy Skills

Learning to read is the premier academic achievement of early schooling. These studies explore the conditions under which children learn to read, the cognitive and linguistic skills that are prerequisite for literacy, and the different factors that are involved in learning to read in different languages, especially when the languages use different writing systems. One part of this research examines the progress made by bilingual children who are learning to read in two languages that are written in completely different systems, such as English and Chinese.

Sample articles:

Bialystok, E., Peets, K., & Moreno, S. (2014). Producing bilinguals through immersion education: Development of metalinguistic awareness. Applied Psycholinguistics, 35, 177-191. PDF

Hermanto, N., Moreno, S., & Bialystok, E. (2012). Linguistic and metalinguistic outcomes of intense immersion education: How bilingual? International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 15, 131-145 PDF


Behavioural & Neuroimaging Studies of Cognitive Functioning

The crucial component of cognitive processing is the performance of the executive functions. These are a set of related abilities that reside in the frontal lobe and are involved in all effortful or higher-order cognitive processing. Central to these executive processes is the role of attention, and particularly, selective attention. Our research includes behavioural and neuroimaging studies of attention and conflict tasks to identify how performance differs for monolingual and bilingual adults and how the brain bases of this performance may also be different. The intention is to determine how bilingualism modifies essential aspects of cognitive performance and reconfigures the neural networks involved in that performance.

Sample articles:

Grady, C.L., Luk, G., Craik, F.I.M., & Bialystok, E. (2015). Brain network activity in monolingual and bilingual older adults. Neuropsychologia, 66, 170-181. PDF

Sullivan, M.D., Janus, M.K., Moreno, S., Astheimer, L., & Bialystok, E. (2014). Early stage second-language learning improves executive control: Evidence from ERP. Brain and Language, 139, 84-98. PDF

Luk, G., Bialystok, E., Craik, F.I.M., & Grady, C. (2011). Lifelong bilingualism maintains white matter integrity in older adults. Journal of Neuroscience, 31, 16808 –16813. PDF


Bilingualism and Aging

The executive processes examined in our research with children and young adults are boosted by bilingualism. These processes, however, normally decline with healthy aging, as control over cognition becomes more effortful and response times become slower. This group of studies examines the hypothesis that lifelong bilingualism protects individuals against this decline by reducing the rate of the natural slowing that comes with age. These studies have shown that the bilingual advantage found in adulthood increases in magnitude with age as bilinguals maintain higher levels of cognitive control beyond 60 years old.

Sample articles:

Bialystok, E., Abutalebi, J., Bak, T.H., Burke, D.M., & Kroll, J.F. (2016). Aging in two languages: Implications for public health. Ageing Research Reviews, 27, 56-60. ARR

Bialystok, E., Poarch, G., Luo, L, & Craik, F.I.M. (2014). Effects of bilingualism and aging on executive function and working memory. Psychology and Aging, 29, 696-705. PDF

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, 859-873. PDF


Onset of Dementia

Growing evidence shows that the “cognitive reserve” that accumulates from engagement in stimulating activities can not only boost cognitive performance throughout life but also protect against symptoms of dementia in the presence of neuropathology such as Alzheimer’s disease. Does the additional cognitive effort required to manage two languages contribute to cognitive reserve? Out ongoing research suggests that it does: lifelong bilinguals diagnosed with dementia on average show symptoms of the disease four years later than comparable monolinguals, with a similar rate of decline for both groups after the diagnosis. This finding has dramatic implications for public health, and the ongoing research investigates the emergence and decline of monolingual and bilingual patients with dementia in more detail.

Sample articles:

Bialystok, E., Craik, F.I.M., Binns, M.A., Ossher, L., & Freedman, M. (2014). Effects of bilingualism on the age of onset and progression of MCI and AD: Evidence from executive function tests. Neuropsychology, 28, 290-304. PDF

Schweizer, T., Ware, J., Fischer, C.E., Craik, F.I.M., & Bialystok, E. (2012). Bilingualism as a contributor to cognitive reserve: Evidence from brain atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease. Cortex, 48, 991-996. PDF

Craik, F.I.M., Bialystok, E., & Freedman, M. (2010). Delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease: Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve. Neurology, 75, 1726-1729.  PDF