Research Projects

The Experience of Bilingualism

One of our aims is to understand the mechanisms through which bilingualism has its effect on cognitive and brain systems. Therefore, in addition to empirical studies, we are engaged in developing more theoretical arguments and literature reviews that integrate the evidence and help to clarify the processes.

Recent sample articles:

Bialystok, E. (2017). The bilingual adaptation: How minds accommodate experience. Psychological Bulletin, 143 (3), 233-262. (PDF)

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. (PDF)

Grundy, J.G., Anderson, J.A.E., & Bialystok, E. (2017). Neural correlates of cognitive processing in monolinguals and bilinguals. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1396, 183-201 (PDF)

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.

Recent sample articles:

Sorge, G., Toplak, M., & Bialystok, E. (2017). Interactions between levels of attention ability and levels of bilingualism in children’s executive functioning. Developmental Science, 20(1), e12408. (PDF)

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)

Bialystok, E. (2015). Bilingualism and the development of executive function: The role of attention. Child Development Perspectives, 9 (2), 117-121. (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.

Recent 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.

Recent sample articles:

Anderson, J.A.E., Grundy, J.G., de Frutos, J., Barker, R.M., Grady, C., & Bialystok, E. (2018). Effects of bilingualism on white matter integrity in older adults. NeuroImage, 167, 143-150. (PDF)

Grundy, J.G., Chung-Fat-Yim, A., Friesen, D.C., Mak, L., & Bialystok, E. (2017). Sequential congruency effects reveal differences in disengagement of attention for monolingual and bilingual young adults. Cognition, 163, 42-55. (PDF)

Friesen, D.C., Chung-Fat- Yim, A., Bialystok, E. (2016). Lexical selection differences in monolingual and bilingual listeners. Brain and Language, 152, 1-13.(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 bilinguals continue to show better executive function than monolinguals in older age and in some cases demonstrate a larger benefit over monolinguals than has been found for younger participants.

Recent 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. (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)

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)


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.

Recent 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)