Abstract

Whether a cognitive advantage exists for bilingual individuals has been the source of heated debate in the last decade. While empirical evidence putatively in favor of or against this alleged advantage has been frequently discussed, the potential sources of enhanced cognitive control in bilinguals have only been broadly declared, with no mechanistic elaboration of where, why, and how this purported link between bilingualism and enhanced language control develops, and how this enhancement transfers to, and subsequently improves, general executive function. Here, we evaluate different potential sources for a bilingual advantage and develop the assumptions one would have to make about the language processing system to be consistent with each of these notions. Subsequently, we delineate the limitations in the generalizations from language to overall executive function, and characterize where these advantages could be identified if there were to be any. Ultimately, we conclude that in order to make significant progress in this area, it is necessary to look for advantages in theoretically motivated areas, and that in the absence of clear theories as to the source, transfer, and target processes that could lead to potential advantages, an inconsistent body of results will follow, making the whole pursuit of a bilingual advantage moot.

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Author notes

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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