Kenneth R. Paap, John Majoubi, Nithyasri Balakrishnan, Regina T. Anders-Jefferson

Bilingualism, like other types of brain training, does not produce far transfer: It all fits together

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education

Purpose: The purpose of this review is to integrate an important new synthesis of the literature examining the effects of cognitive training on far transfer tests of cognitive ability with the expansive literature testing for bilingual advantages in executive functioning (EF). Approach: The secondary meta-analysis of cognitive training on far transfer reported by Gobet and Sala is compared and contrasted with the many recent meta-analyses for bilingual advantages in EF. Data and Analysis: The Gobet and Sala secondary meta-analysis is based on ten independent meta-analyses with a median of 24 samples per analysis. The meta-analyses of the bilingual advantage in EF are partitioned into nine analyses that focus on inhibition, switching, working memory capacity, and general EF. Findings and Conclusions: Both cognitive training and bilingualism yield overall effects that are not distinguishable from zero when corrected for publication bias. Furthermore, both clusters of meta-analyses show that study quality moderates performance, but that type of experience/training does not. In the absence of a compelling reason for considering bilingual language-language to have a special status in cognitive training, these two conclusions mesh. Originality: Although brain training and the bilingual advantage in EF are both instances of the general hypothesis that practicing cognitive tasks can produce far transfer, they have not been considered as two tests of the same general hypothesis. However, the twin null results resonate and strengthen each other. Significance: If bilingualism does not enhance EF in children and young adults (or maintain it in older adults), the argument that bilingualism enhances EF and/or delays the onset of dementia is substantially weakened. However, it is clear and indisputable that, more broadly, there are important advantages to being able to communicate and connect with more people.

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