Chapter 15. Cognitive mechanisms underlying performance differences between monolinguals and bilinguals

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Lifelong experience with multiple languages is believed to produce a number of executive function advantages including enhanced top-down control, improved attention, and greater working memory capacity. This bilingual advantage is generally believed to be the result of having multiple lexical representations in each language that compete for selection. More specifically, the control that is required to select the relevant from the irrelevant language in any given context is believed to require cognitive control, and practicing this control leads to enhanced executive functioning. However, the specific underlying mechanisms of language control, including inhibition, monitoring, attention, and disengagement, that lead to enhanced executive functioning are still largely unknown. This is partly due to the complex nature of both language and domain general executive functions, which are multi-faceted. Here, we highlight some possibilities for disentangling the underlying mechanisms of executive function contributing to performance differences between monolinguals and bilinguals, and suggest that disengagement of attention from previous information is an important mechanism to consider.


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