Mahurin Honors College Capstone Experience/Thesis Projects


Extensive Experience with Multiple Languages May Not Buffer Age-Related Declines in Executive Function


Psychological Sciences

Additional Departmental Affiliation

Modern Languages

Document Type



The question of whether bilingualism can improve aspects of cognitive function is a hotly debated topic, with evidence on both sides. A few recent studies have reported that bilingualism may provide a limited buffer against some age-related cognitive decline. This study aimed to test that hypothesis by analyzing the combinatorial effects of age and language experience upon executive function (i.e., general cognitive control mechanisms that regulate cognition and behavior). Amazon Mechanical Turk was used to recruit an international sample of younger (YA) and older adults (OA) from 24 countries. A total of 81 participants were monolingual (ML; N(YA) = 37, N(OA) = 44), and 82 participants were bilingual/multilingual (BL; N(YA) = 43, N(OA) = 39). Executive function components of inhibition, memory updating, and attention switching were measured using Stop Signal, Letter Memory, and Color Shape tasks, respectively. YAs performed better than OAs on both the Stop Signal and Letter Memory tasks, indicating that YAs had better control of inhibition and updating processes. The Color Shape task revealed that a greater switch cost occurred if a person had less time to process a stimulus cue. Notably, no effects of language (i.e., bilingualism) were significant. Thus, YAs and OAs performed as expected regarding normal cognitive aging; however, no main effects or interactions of language experience were found. This study provides data that challenge the claim that extensive experience with multiple languages can be a reliably protective factor against some normative age-related declines in executive function.

Advisor(s) or Committee Chair

Dr. Matthew Shake, Dr. Jenni Redifer, Dr. Tom Richmond


Cognitive Psychology | Linguistics

This document is currently not available here.