The elusive link between language control and executive control: A case of limited transfer

Anat Prior, Tamar H. Gollan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigated the relationship between language control and executive control by testing three groups of bilinguals (104 participants) and 54 monolinguals in a training and transfer paradigm. Participants practised either a language or a non-linguistic colour/shape switching task and were tested one week later on both tasks. The colour/shape task produced significant immediate improvement with training, which was maintained one week later, but exhibited no cross-task transfer effects. In the dominant language, training effects did not persist after one week, and there were no transfer effects. In the non-dominant language there were significant training effects that lasted one week, and there was also transfer facilitation from prior practice with the colour/shape task, which was limited to a reduction in mixing costs. Despite limited transfer, there were significant correlations between tasks in mixing costs for bilinguals, in switching costs for monolinguals, and in intrusion errors for all participants. Finally, the pattern of costs observed for the two tasks exhibited both similarities and differences across participants. These results imply a limited but significant role for executive control in bilingual language control, possibly playing a stronger role in facilitating non-dominant-language production and in supporting the ability to monitor response outcomes to avoid errors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)622-645
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Cognitive Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Correspondence should be addressed to Anat Prior, Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center, Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel. E-mail: This research was supported by EU-FP7 Grant IRG-249163 to Anat Prior, and by R01s from NICHD (HD050287 to Tamar Gollan and HD051030 to Vic Ferreira) and NIDCD (R01 DC011492 to Tamar Gollan). The authors thank Adva Sharabi, Samer Andrea, Mayra Murillo and Tiffany Ho for diligent data collection and coding, and Andrei Markus for programming assistance. The authors also thank Iring Koch, Jared Linck and an anonymous reviewer for comments on an earlier draft.


  • Bilingualism
  • Cognitive control
  • Language switching
  • Task switching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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