Over the past 10 years, many scientific papers have shown that speaking more than one language can convey some cognitive rewards. For example, bilingualism seems to boost the brain’s ability to focus, plan, and perform certain mentally taxing tasks. But a few papers show no such advantages.
Now a study finds that research that challenges a bilingual benefit is less likely to be published than studies that find one. This party pooping, or fiesta-foiling, finding is in the journal Psychological Science. [Angela de Bruin, Barbara Treccani and Sergio Della Sala, Cognitive Advantage in Bilingualism: An Example of Publication Bias?]
Researchers compared studies presented at conferences to those actually accepted for publication. Of the 104 meeting abstracts they examined, about half supported a bilingual advantage and half challenged or failed to find one.
But when it came to publication, 63 percent of the bilingual boosting studies made it into a scientific journal, as opposed to 36 percent of the studies with null findings.
The data do not address whether the bias toward affirmative results comes from the journal editors and reviewers or from the scientists themselves. And they don’t suggest that bilingualism offers no advantages. Regardless of brain function, there exist undeniable social benefits to having two tongues versus just one.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]