Psychological Studies

, Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 52–60 | Cite as

Measuring Two Types of Inhibitory Control in Bilinguals and Trilinguals: Is There a Trilingual Advantage?

  • Arnel R. Madrazo
  • Allan B. I. Bernardo
Research in Progress


Several studies have observed a bilingual advantage in non-linguistic cognitive tasks. Even as the replicability of these findings is debated, there is much evidence to suggest that the bilinguals’ constant exertion to manage information from two active linguistic systems enhances the basic inhibitory control functions in bilinguals compared to monolinguals. The study extends this inquiry with trilinguals and tests the hypothesis that a trilingual advantage in inhibitory control would be observed in more cognitively demanding control tasks—tasks that involve both response inhibition and interference suppression. A sample of Filipino-English bilinguals and a sample of Chabacano-Filipino-English trilinguals in the Philippines were assessed for their bilingual and trilingual language proficiencies and later asked to complete a series of Simon arrow tasks. The results show that trilinguals were more accurate and efficient than bilinguals in the trials that involve interference suppression and response inhibition, but this advantage was negligible in trials involving only response inhibition.


Bilingualism Trilingualism Inhibitory control Cognitive advantage Simon arrow task 



This research was supported by a scholarship grant from Commission on Higher Education, Republic of the Philippines, and a dissertation grant from Language Learning: A Journal of Research in Language Studies given to the first author. The authors thank Dr. Adrianne John R. Galang and Dr. Claire Madrazo for technical assistance in conducting the study, Mr. Eric Asinas and Mrs Racquel B. Asinas for additional financial assistance, and Pilar Caparas, Janet Paster, Cherry Rose Madrazo and Thom de Borja for various forms of research assistance.


  1. Arffa, S. (2007). The relationship of intelligence to executive function and non-executive function measures in a sample of average, above average, and gifted youth. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 22, 969–978.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Astheimer, L., Berkes, M., & Bialystok, E. (2015). Differential allocation of attention during speech perception in monolingual and bilingual listener. Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience, 31, 196–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barrios, A. L. (2006). Austronesian elements in Philippine Creole Spanish. Philippine Journal of Linguistics, 37, 36–49.Google Scholar
  4. Bernardo, A. B. I. (2007). Language in Philippine education: Rethinking old fallacies, exploring new alternatives amidst globalization. In T. R. F. Tupas (Ed.), (Re)making society: The politics of language, discourse and identity in the Philippines (pp. 1–26). Quezon City, Philippines: University of the Philippines Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bhatia, T., & Ritchie, W. (2016). Emerging trilingual literacies in rural India: Linguistic, marketing, and developmental aspects. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 19, 202–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Grady, C., Chau, W., Ishii, R., Gunji, A., et al. (2005). Effect of bilingualism on cognitive control in the Simon task: Evidence from MEG. Neuroimage, 24, 40–49.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Klein, R., & Viswanathan, M. (2004). Bilingualism, aging, and cognitive control: Evidence from the Simon task. Psychology and Aging, 19, 290–303.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Luk, G. (2008). Cognitive control and lexical access in younger and older bilinguals. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 859–873.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: Consequences for mind and brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16, 240–250.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Bosma, E., Hoekstra, E., Versloot, A., & Blom, E. (2017). The minimal and short-lived effects of minority language exposure on the executive functions of Frisian-Dutch bilingual children. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1453. Scholar
  11. Braun, A., & Cline, T. (2014). Language strategies for trilingual families: Parents’ perspectives (Vol. 17). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  12. Bunge, S. A., Dudukovic, N. M., Thomason, M. E., Vaidya, C. J., & Gabrieli, J. D. (2002). Immature frontal lobe contributions to cognitive control in children: Evidence from fMRI. Neuron, 33, 301–311.Google Scholar
  13. Chertkow, H., Whitehead, V., Phillips, N., Wolfson, C., Atherton, J., & Bergman, H. (2010). Multilingualism (but not always bilingualism) delays the onset of Alzheimer disease: Evidence from a bilingual community. Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders, 24, 118–125.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Chevalier, S. (2015). Trilingual language acquisition: Contextual factors influencing active trilingualism in early childhood. Amsterdam: John Benjamin.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Colzato, L. S., Bajo, M. T., van den Wildenberg, W., Paolieri, D., Nieuwenhuis, S., La Heij, W., et al. (2008). How does bilingualism improve executive control? A comparison of active and reactive inhibition mechanisms. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 302–312.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Costa, A., Hernandez, M., Costa-Faidella, J., & Sebastian-Galles, N. (2009). On the bilingual advantage in conflict processing: Now you see it, now you don’t. Cognition, 113, 135–149.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. De Bot, K., Jaensch, C., Garcia, M., & Maria, D. (2015). What is special about L3? Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 18, 130–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. de Bruin, A., Treccani, B., & Della Sala, S. (2015). Cognitive advantage in bilingualism: An example of publication bias? Psychological Science, 26, 99–107.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Friesen, D. C., Latman, V., Calvo, A., & Bialystok, E. (2015). Attention during visual search: The benefit of bilingualism. International Journal of Bilingualism, 19, 693–702.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Gambi, C., & Hartsuiker, R. (2016). If you stay, it might be easier: Switch costs from comprehension to production in a joint switching task. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 42, 608–626.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Gass, S., Behney, J., & Plonsky, L. (2013). Second language acquisition: An introductory course. NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Green, D. W. (1998). Mental control of the bilingual lexico-semantic system. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1, 67–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Green, D. W., & Abutalebi, J. (2013). Language control in bilinguals: The adaptive control hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 515–530.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Heaton, J. B. (1989). Writing English language test. London, UK: Longman Publishing.Google Scholar
  25. Hilchey, M. D., & Klein, R. M. (2011). Are there bilingual advantages on nonlinguistic interference tasks? Implications for the plasticity of executive control processes. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 625–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Janus, M., Lee, Y., Moreno, S., & Bialystok, E. (2016). Effects of short-term music and second-language training on executive control. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 144, 84–97.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Jarvis, S. (2014). Influences of previously learned languages on the learning and use of additional languages. Educational Linguistics, 23, 69–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kavé, G., Eyal, N., Shorek, A., & Cohen-Mansfield, J. (2008). Multilingualism and cognitive state in the oldest old. Psychology and Aging, 23, 70–78.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Kroll, J., & Bialystok, E. (2014). Understanding the consequences of bilingualism for language processing and cognition. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 497–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kroll, J. F., Bobb, S. C., & Hoshino, N. (2014). Two languages in mind: Bilingualism as a tool to investigate language, cognition, and the brain. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 159–163.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Luk, G., De Sa, E., & Bialystok, E. (2011). Is there a relation between onset age of bilingualism and enhancement of cognitive control?. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14, 588–595.Google Scholar
  32. Madrazo, A., & Bernardo, A. (2012). Are two languages better than two? Inhibitory control in trilinguals and bilinguals in the Philippines. Philippine Journal of Psychology, 45, 225–246.Google Scholar
  33. Martin-Rhee, M., & Bialystok, E. (2008). The development of two types of inhibitory control in monolingual and bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 11, 81–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McNamara, J., Krauthammer, M., & Bolgar, M. (1968). Language switching in bilinguals as a function of stimulus and response uncertainty. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 78, 208–215.Google Scholar
  35. McNamara, J., & Kushnir, S. L. (1972). Linguistic independence of bilinguals: The input-switch. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 10, 480–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Morales, J., Calvo, A., & Bialystok, E. (2013). Working memory development in monolingual and bilingual children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 114, 187–202.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Morton, J. B., & Harper, S. N. (2007). What did Simon say? Revisiting the bilingual advantage. Developmental Science, 10, 719–726.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Noble, K. G., Norman, M. F., & Farah, M. J. (2005). Neurocognitive correlates of socioeconomic status in kindergarten children. Developmental Science, 8, 74–87.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Ortega, L. (2013). Understanding second language acquisition. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Paap, K. R., & Greenberg, Z. I. (2013). There is no coherent evidence for a bilingual advantage in executive processing. Cognitive Psychology, 66, 232–258.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Paap, K., Johnson, H., & Sawi, O. (2015). Bilingual advantages in executive functioning either do not exist or are restricted to very specific and undetermined circumstances. Cortex, 69, 256–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pap, E. (2016). Composing a narrative story in a third language: Multilinguals’ reliance on multiple languages in an L3 linguistic task. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 19, 153–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Poarch, G. K., & Bialystok, E. (2015). Bilingualism as a model for multitasking. Developmental Review, 35, 113–124.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  44. Poarch, G. K., & Van Hell, J. G. (2012). Executive functions and inhibitory control in multilingual children: Evidence from second-language learners, bilinguals, and trilinguals. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 113, 535–551.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Schalley, A., Eisenchlas, S., & Guillemin, D. (2016). Multilingualism and literacy: Practices and effects. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 19, 127–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schepens, J. J., van der Slik, F., & van Hout, R. (2016). L1 and L2 distance effects in learning L3 Dutch. Language Learning, 66, 224–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schroeder, S. R., & Marian, V. (2016). Cognitive consequences of trilingualism. International Journal of Bilingualism, 21, 754–773.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  48. Simon, J. R., & Rudell, A. P. (1967). Auditory SR compatibility: The effect of an irrelevant cue on information processing. Journal of Applied Psychology, 51, 300–304.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Thomas-Sunesson, D., Hakuta, K., & Bialystok, E. (2016). Degree of bilingualism modifies executive control in Hispanic children in the USA. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 50, 1–10. Scholar
  50. Townsend, J. T., & Ashby, F. G. (1983). Stochastic modeling of elementary psychological processes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Vega-Mendoza, M., West, H., Sorace, A., & Bak, T. H. (2015). The impact of late, non-balanced bilingualism on cognitive performance. Cognition, 137, 40–46.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Verreyt, N., Woumans, E., Vandelanotte, D., Szmalec, A., & Duyck, W. (2016). The influence of language switching experience on the bilingual executive control advantage. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19, 181–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. von Bastian, C. C., Souza, A. S., & Gade, M. (2016). No evidence for bilingual cognitive advantages: A test of four hypotheses. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145, 246–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© National Academy of Psychology (NAOP) India 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Far Eastern UniversityManilaPhilippines
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, E21-3060 Humanities and Social Sciences BuildingUniversity of MacauTaipaMacau

Personalised recommendations